28 February 2010

Hearts at Stake; Alyxandra Hrvey

Hearts at Stake (The Drake Chronicles, #1) Hearts at Stake by Alyxandra Harvey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another good new vampire series to follow - this time it's about the Drake clan, several hundred (ok, maybe a thousand) years old and "natural born" vampires. What's that? They're born and go through a bloodchange a puberty. Not all of them, mind you, but enough of them. Mostly the men, but then Solange comes along... the first female "natural" vampire in centuries, part of the Drake clan, and (duh) part of a Prophecy.

I loved the relationship she has with her seven older brothers, and with her BFF Luckyucy (ok, maybe not so F as Lucy's a human, but one never knows with series), and her discovery that blood is better than chocolate was amusing. The whole vampire clan and Host and Hounds and Helios-Ra and Hel-Blar thing was a bit much (very Darren Shan), while the verbal exchanges had serious Buffy overtones. Of course, for me any vampire that doesn't sparkle is a vampire worth considering!

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27 February 2010

Hush; Kate White

Hush: A Novel Hush: A Novel by Kate White
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My reason for giving this a 3 and not a 4 is kind of stupid: there was some cat abuse involved. I don't want to give anything away, but when you mess with a cat...

This was definitely a "thriller" type mystery, with danger lurking and the suspense level ratcheted up. I think that because I lived in NYC for so long the explanations and references bothered me (I know what DUMBO means; had brunch there just last weekend even), but were I not so savvy, perhaps they'd have added to the story. I didn't get why the birthmark was such a big deal - it actually felt extraneous and could have been edited out. As for the plot, it was a little far-fetched but aren't these thrillers always?

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Making Toast; Roger Rosenblatt

Making Toast: A Family Story Making Toast: A Family Story by Roger Rosenblatt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I understand why people write books after the death of a loved one: it's cathartic. I'm less understanding of why we read them. If we don't know the people involved, what's the gain? Is it that we hope we'll handle our losses with more dignity? That death will be comprehensible? I really don't know...

This slight series of pensees (too short to be essays, not coherent enough to be anything more) doesn't offer much in the way of spiritual guidance. Rather, it's simply a father trying to make sense of his daughter's death and trying to help her family heal.

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Moonshadow; Simon Higgins

Moonshadow: Rise of the Ninja Moonshadow: Rise of the Ninja by Simon Higgins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Good start to a series about an orphan raised to be part of a shadow warrior clan in Tokagawa Japan. The swordplay, secret spycraft and general ambiance will appeal to Middle School boys. One can only hope that this series does come to fruition (as opposed to the L.G. Bass 'series' Outlaws of Moonshadow Marsh, that stalled after the first book).

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26 February 2010

Eye of the Red Tsar; Sam Eastland

Eye of the Red Tsar: A Novel of Suspense (Pekkala, #1) Eye of the Red Tsar: A Novel of Suspense by Sam Eastland
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Historical mystery is not my usual mystery genre, but this book, set during Stalin's reign, was fairly enjoyable. The history part, about the last days of the Tsar, was pretty well known to me, and I have to admit that the flashbacks to Pekkala's past were annoying. Having said that, the writing was good and the characters believable enough (for a mystery). As for "thrilling", well, less of that than expected.

The final twist was less predictable than the whereabouts of the Tsar's treasure, and I would have expected someone of Pekkala's intellect to have figured that out long before he did.

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Faithful; Janet Fox

Faithful Faithful by Janet Fox
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
A Harlequin romance (with Whartonina overtones) for the Sarah Dessen set. Very cliched plot and characters.

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The Carbon Diaries 2017; Saci Lloyd

The Carbon Diaries 2017 The Carbon Diaries 2017 by Saci Lloyd
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There's a student at MPOW who loves this series... I can see why (teens getting excited/radical about something, plus the whole greenhouse effect/carbon fuel thing) but it just didn't do it for me. This dystopian view of politics and the climate change future has all the elements of The Children of Men and other like-minded books, but told through a teen voice. That certainly felt real, but for some reason I just didn't buy into the rest of the plotline. Maybe I'm too old, maybe I've never felt that young and threatened, maybe I'm too comfortably middle class, maybe I've never been as in love as Laura is with Adi... whatever it was, the book was just "ok". YMMV, of course.

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24 February 2010

The Long Way Home; Robin Pilcher

The Long Way Home The Long Way Home by Robin Pilcher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoy the Aga-saga genre, even when it takes until p166 for said Aga to appear (is there some union rule about the Aga mention? like, it must be done casually enough to convince the reader that it's not product placement? or, if you don't mention one you can't consider yourself a chick lit writer?) Anyway, the Aga made its cameo and all was well.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around Claire today and Claire's past, when she and her mother moved to Scotland to live with Leo (Mom's second husband and Claire's now-beloved stepfather); her relationship with her stepsiblings and with the boy-next-door are examined because Something Happened that broke up Jonas and Claire, Something that has Repercussions.

Of course all is resolved in the end and while Jonas will remain married to Liv and Claire will remain married to Art, each has made peace with each other and with their past. And isn't that all we want from one of these books?

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22 February 2010

The Prince of Mist; Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Prince of Mist The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This isn't true horror, it's horror lite: the Prince (aka Dr. Cain) doesn't seem to be "unimaginable" unless you've not read anything about the Faust myth. If you have, you'll be mildly annoyed at the portentous hints of What's Going On (for example, the films or the walled garden) that aren't fully developed. If one theme had been fully developed, this would have been a far creepier book.

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Still Missing; Chevy Stevens

Still Missing Still Missing by Chevy Stevens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very, very dark story of a woman abducted and held for over a year. While it didn't live up to the "shocking conclusion"... "tense thriller" hype the publisher put on the ARC, it was definitely a worth-while read.

Told as a series of sessions with her shrink and as flashbacks (with some modern day stuff at the end), Annie's story of life with The Freak is truly unsettling. The additional information about her boyfriend, best friend and her family just adds to the creepiness of her life After (although living with that mother Before? ugh!) I particularly liked that the shrink didn't intrude, these were all her words and any 'guiding questions' were completely off stage. Some of it seemed a bit trite (Annie and Gary, for example, or her baby's name), but that didn't detract from the story as much as it could have.

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21 February 2010

31 Bond Street; Ellen Horan

31 Bond Street: A Novel 31 Bond Street: A Novel by Ellen Horan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'd originally thought that this was a True Crime book, but it's actually historical fiction based on a True Crime (that of the 1857 murder of Dr. Harvey Burdell). The evocation of the era is well done, and I think readers will be surprised to discover that New York, a Northern city, had many Southern sympathizers and that former/runaway slaves were not always safe here. The references to Tammany Hall may confuse readers, as I don't think it's studied as much as it was back when I was in school. However, the taint of corruption of witnesses and politicians is certainly relevant today.

The "scientific" evidence for the trial is rather amusing; we think today of DNA and other CSI/Bones-like analysis while 150 years ago science was basically very educated guesses about the height/strength of the murderer.

The ending, with a brief mention of the real parties in this tale, is a little unsatisfying. I would have enjoyed knowing more about Oakley Hall, Clinton and some of the others, but now will have something to research!

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18 February 2010

Kyle's Island; Sally Derby

Kyle's Island Kyle's Island by Sally Derby
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rather average tale about a boy learning lessons about life and growing older; takes place during the summer, when Kyle's family goes to their cottage in Michigan. Dad's left the family, and Mom needs to sell the cottage (bills, college funds, etc.).

Of course there's at least one Major Misunderstanding, abut there are Friends Found and Lessons Learned. I'm not sure why this was set in the 70s, except perhaps the author didn't think it plausible that kids would enjoy a summer on a lake without cell phones and Playstation and other electronic entertainments.

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17 February 2010

The Prophecy; Dawn Miller

The Prophecy (Watchers Chronicles, The) The Prophecy by Dawn Miller
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

A very messy book - too much going on, too many unexplained (or confusing) characters, and not enough of anything to make you actually care about anyone. According to the back copy, this is part of the Watcher Chronicles (book one is my guess) and while there's a definite cliff hanger ending, I just don't think it's not enough to keep readers coming back. A slower pace with a little more explanation, as well as decent editing to clarify who is who and what's going on are definitely needed here.

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15 February 2010

The Girl with Glass Feet; Ali Shaw

The Girl with Glass Feet The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As I read this, my mind kept drifting over to Helprin's Winter's Tale: both are set in what feels like the real world, but the magic and wonder set them apart from the world we inhabit.

Shaw's book is about two very lonely people, Midas and Henry, who have made a fetish of being apart from the rest of us; it's also about Carl, who was in love with Freya (Ida's mother) and friends with Midas' father. And then there's Ida, seemingly normal but with this mysterious condition: her body is slowly turning to glass. The intersection of these four lives and how one deals with past loves, people in general and the wondrous things this world offers is what made this book one of my favorites.

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12 February 2010

The Queen of Palymra; Minrose Gwin

The Queen of Palmyra: A Novel (P.S.) The Queen of Palmyra: A Novel by Minrose Gwin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This isn't a very likable book - it hurts in the same way that The Color Purple hurts, only Florence is white, not black. Growing up just a hair north of white trash, in Mississippi during the '60s can't have been easy; having an abusive father who hates blacks and a drunkard mother who doesn't mind them is even more difficult.

Flo's story hits all the notes you expect from a story about those types of people. Unlike The Help, the voices don't always ring true in part because often you get the grown-up woman talking about the past in a way that seems too adult. The characters also felt somewhat stereotypical, but that doesn't lessen the affect the story has.

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10 February 2010

Eleventh Grade Burns; Heather Brewer

Eleventh Grade Burns (The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, #4) Eleventh Grade Burns by Heather Brewer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Why haven't I been reading this series already? Vladimir Tod's story is a great vampire story - nothing sparkles, but Tod's half-human, half-vampire nature leads him to claim to prefer to not drink human blood (so kind of a vegetarian). The Slayer/vampire conflict will resonate with any Buffy/Angel fan, but the bromance (sorry, I just couldn't help myself there) will really appeal to male readers.

In this episode, Vlad's struggle with his junior year in high school and the heartbreak he feels over breaking up with Meredith and the confusion over his feelings for Snow, as well as his sense of loss over his friendship with Joss are normal, everyboy things. The vampire parts just add to the teen angst, and the drama. There's the Parvus prophecy, vampires who want to kill him, his uncle dating his aunt (gross, right?) and above all, the Slayer's back.

Now I have to go read about eighth through tenth grade - if you like vampire books that aren't too gory (and don't sparkle), you should, too.

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07 February 2010

The Wide-Awake Princess; E.D. Baker

The Wide-Awake Princess The Wide-Awake Princess by E.D. Baker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm a big fan of fractured fairy tales, and The Wide-Awake Princess is a fun one. Annabelle, the younger, very much unmagical younger sister of Gwendolyn, she of Sleeping Beauty fame. When the curse is activated, it's up to Annie (and the faithful guard, Liam) to break the curse.

Who knew that the Frog Prince's children were Hansel and Gretel, er, Clara and Tomas? Or that Rapunzel was not interested in being rescued by any of her princes? All that, and more, are found here!

Serious fun for those that love this type of genre.

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Smudge's Mark; Claudia Osmond

Smudge's Mark Smudge's Mark by Claudia Osmond

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is one of those "orphan-who's-not-really-an-orphan-but-has-a-HIGHER PURPOSE" books. You know right away that there's something wrong with Simon, since his grandfather's nuts, the housekeeper's an incredibly ugly tyrant and he can't remember anything earlier than seven months before. On his birthday he's given a "twencil" (a twig/pencil) that enables him to do some interesting things with his drawings; and, of course, when he's sent away to a hellish orphanage, you just know that he'll somehow find his true identity, save the girl/world and generally battle evil and Do Good.

The characters really were stock characters: the missing/unknown brother, the timid Edmund Pevensie-like friend, the dual roles of the school's head and the grandfather, etc.. The plot was equally stock, with nothing there that didn't feel slightly recycled.

The ending hints at this being a series, because that's the way these types of books are being written these days. It's not enough to write a good work of fantasy, you've got to write a series. In my opinion, with some judicious editing, this could have been a good stand-alone book (some of the passages just go on too long, and there are times I thought "enough, get to the point"; cutting those and wrapping up the action in one volume would have made this unique).

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Anxious Hearts; Tucker Shaw

Anxious Hearts Anxious Hearts by Tucker Shaw
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This version of Longfellow's "Evangeline" follows both a modern-day couple and the 'original' Cadian Evangeline and Gabriel; it would be nice if this sparks more interest in the poem and in the Grand Derangement.

The liberties taken with the plot of the poem were clearly made to better mimic the modern story, but I wish they hadn't been made. I also found it jarring that one of the Cadians quotes Longfellow, but that may not disturb other readers.

Without the tie-in to "Evangeline" and the historic events, this would just be a passable YA romance.

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06 February 2010

Watchlist; various

Watchlist: A Serial Thriller Watchlist: A Serial Thriller by Jeffery Deaver
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I'll be the first to admit I'm not a great fan of the thriller genre, and this book didn't convince me I was missing much. Quite possibly it wasn't the genre's fault, but the fact that this is a gimmick book. What's the gimmick? Gather a bunch of thriller writers (the only names I recognized were Jeffrey Deaver and Lisa Scottoline, but I'm sure the others are well-known to thriller fans) and have them add chapters to the stories.

While the plot hung together as much as one would expect from a "you can't trust this person/motive/fact because it's really some twist you don't see coming" genre, each chapter does have a different flavor because of the different authors. Some had more dialogue, some more description (And seriously, can we call a halt to identifying leather as "buttery soft"? I get it. Actually, I got it, about ten years ago. Leather = buttery soft. Let's move on.), some were more action-based. That slight difference is, I'm sure, in place so that fans of Gayle Lynds or Peter Spiegelman can have that moment of recognition when "their" writer appears.

As far as plot goes, they (this is two novellas in one volume) seemed pretty average and only there to really hold the gimmick together.

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