31 July 2010

Hacking Timbucktu; Stephen Davies

Hacking TimbuktuHacking Timbuktu by Stephen Davies
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My biggest complaint about this book was that there was no explanation of the parkour moves (the author does link to a website at the end of the book, but a little more information would have been nice), and there's nothing really about the Dogon tribe or what a Nommo is. While I usually get annoyed with too much time spent on explanations or exposition, in the case of books that are set in real, but unusual settings, it's needed!

Having griped a little, let me now say that the book will really appeal to boy readers. The suspense level is a little low (it becomes obvious that Danny and Omar will 1. be trapped in each "environment" and 2. will figure out an escape route), but the way in which they meet each obstacle will surprise readers. The combination of parkour and hacking will appeal to readers because it's unusual; it wouldn't be a surprise to see parkour picking up here in the US.

This book really deserved a 4.5, but I'm giving it a rare 5 because my complaints are really more in the arena of wanting additional information rather than plot or character related.

ARC provided by publisher.

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29 July 2010

The Good Daughters; Joyce Maynard

The Good Daughters: A NovelThe Good Daughters: A Novel by Joyce Maynard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Usually I get annoyed when there's a plot twist that I can see coming a mile away (example? SPOILER ALERT: Darth Vader is Luke's father. oh, and Leia's his sister). For some reason, even though I figured out what the plot twist was in this book, it didn't bother me.

There are three daughters here: Ruth Plank, fifth daughter of Edwin and Connie; Dana Dickinson, daughter of Val and George; and a new strawberry hybrid (I'm not kidding). Ruth and Dana are "birthday sisters", born nine months after a massive hurricane hits their rural NH town. Ruth's family, the Planks, have owned their farm since the 1700s, and while Ruth doesn't really fit in, she adores her father and helps out around the farm to be with him. Dana's family is one of those unsettled families, moving ever few years; the only constants are the George will have yet another failed get-rich-quick scheme and that the Planks and the Dickinsons will see each other for two brief visits every year.

Their lives intertwine more than just these visits, as Ruth has a massive crush on Ray (Dana's older brother), while Dana eventually becomes a farmer and successfully patents Edwin's strawberry. To reveal more would give away the plot twist.

This isn't an action-packed book, but the raveling and unraveling of their lives is well worth the read.

ARC provided by publisher

26 July 2010

City of Tranquil Light; Bo Caldwell

City of Tranquil Light: A NovelCity of Tranquil Light: A Novel by Bo Caldwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


City of Tranquil Light is a quiet book - there's a lot going on, but the touch is barely there, most of the time. The tale of two Mennonite missionaries on the Great China Plain, the day-to-day sorrows and triumphs of these ordinary people are compelling. There are a few "loud" moments (the beheadings, for example) but that only makes them stand out more. The decision to tell the story through Will's remembering and Katherine's journal adds to the slightly removed tone.

One of the big complaints about historical fiction is when real famous people are interjected into the tale. Here, the story of China's evolution from the Manchu dynasty to the People's Republic is almost a distant backdrop to the daily lives. The only real clash comes when the armies meet, and when Will decides that he and Katherine will be safer (and healthier) back in America.

The sorrows in their lives (loss of a child, losing family when so far away, the famine) are balanced by the joy they have in their work and in their friends. There's no great theological thrust, just a quiet thread of faith that runs through their story (unlike, say, Gilead, which feels more religious in tone).

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Solitary; Alexander Gordon Smith

Solitary: Escape from Furnace 2Solitary: Escape from Furnace 2 by Alexander Gordon Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Definitely a "boys read" book - a mix of Incarceron and sci-fi ugh that should keep them happy!

I hadn't read the first book, but there's a brief expository chapter and then you're in to Alex's escape from Furnace, a very nasty underground prison where unspeakable things are done to prisoners (er, make that "specimens"). Unfortunately, the escape doesn't go as planned, and Alex, Zee and Gary are right back in Furnace. Alex and Zee are sentenced to 30 days in solitary, a literal hole in the floor with no light and a little hole in which to pee and get air.

They cleverly discover a way to communicate, and one day Simon comes to rescue Alex. It's this bit that gets me - Simon takes Alex out of the cell, they talk, Alex goes back to the cell, over and over. Seems a bit cruel but it does ratchet up the suspense: will Simon come back? how is Donovan? can they figure out a way out? They do find a way to escape, but are foiled by the rats (a human-based creature), then find another way that again doesn't work out.

In the end, they're taken back to Furnace for... what exactly I don't know because that'll be in Book 3. The grossness of the blackshirts, rats and wheezers is almost appealing; the questions of what solitary can do to your mind are relevant to our questions about how to handle prisoners today.

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The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall; Mary Downing Hahn

The Ghost of Crutchfield HallThe Ghost of Crutchfield Hall by Mary Downing Hahn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A cross between Turn of the Screw and The Little Princess/The Secret Garden with other literary references tossed in. Florence, an orphan, is rescued from her orphanage when a long-lost great-uncle finds her and brings her to his home, Crutchfield Hall. Of course, there's her great-aunt, who doesn't like her, and her sick-in-bed cousin James, and then there's Sophie, who died a year earlier... It's not too scary, but there's a definite creep factor that younger readers will enjoy.

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25 July 2010

The Body in the Tower; Y.S. Lee

The Agency 2: The Body at the TowerThe Agency 2: The Body at the Tower by Y.S. Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I much prefer this Mary to Mary Russell - even though they're both exceptional Victorian era women drawn to solving crimes, I think it's the Holmes tie-in that makes me dislike Russell and prefer Quinn.

Anyway, this Mary is hiding things from everyone: her real name, her ethnicity, and on this case, her gender. The sense of what it was like to work during the Victorian era fluctuates. At times the author gets it right, at other times it vanishes under the guise of "moving the plot forward", and there were moments when I thought that a bit of description had been tossed in for authenticity's sake rather than because we were truly in that world. I did like the fact that we weren't given pages of "this is what it was like to live during that time", on the other hand, and certain things were put in as though of course the reader would know about them. The mystery itself is one of those solved-at-the-last-moment ones, with the explication coming as a last-minute confession. I'm not fond of that device!

Still, the developing relationship between Mary and the Agency, Mary and James, and Mary and a few other characters who I'm sure will be back (like Jones and Jenkins) is enough to keep me interested in the next book in the series.

ARC provided by the publisher.

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Ninth Ward; Jewell Parker Rhodes

Ninth WardNinth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Ninth Ward is a good book for younger readers who may not quite remember the aftermath of Katrina in the detail that older readers will.

The story is told by Lanesha, who is smart, strange and orphaned; Mama Ya-Ya, her grandmother, is raising her in the Ninth Ward because her Uptown family has (apparently) disowned her. Lanesha's good at math, but because she sees things (as does Mama Ya-Ya), other students don't want to know her.

That starts to change in the lead-up to the Hurricane, when TaShon asks (begs) her to care for Spot, his not-German Shepard puppy, and when Ginia offers to come shopping for supplies with her. This momentary happiness is, of course, cut short by the evacuation, the storm and the rupturing of the levees that came in Katrina's wake. TaShon, Mama Ya-Ya, Spot and Lanesha take refuge in the attic, but soon that's not enough - Mama Ya-Ya dies, and the three others escape onto the roof and finally via a rowboat.

The descriptions of life in the Ninth Ward are vivid, as are the emotions Lanesha has during the ten days the book covers.

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Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus; R. L. LaFevers

Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus (Theodosia Throckmorton, Book #3)Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus by R.L. LaFevers
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you haven't read Books 1 or 2 of this series (as I haven't), it doesn't really matter - there's enough exposition for you to catch up and the adventure itself is relatively self-contained. Yes, there are elements that will carry over into Book 4, but this is more like An Unfortunate Event or Percy Jackson than a "long-arc" series.

Theodosia's a very unusual Edwardian-era girl, with an ability to see Egyptian curio curses (and an affinity for reversing them). Her parents run a museum in London and much of the action centers around her finding an object and trying to reverse its curse or deciphering the hieroglyphics, not to mention juggling at least three secret societies eager to find/keep track of/abuse said object. And then there's Grandmother...

It's unclear why her brother Henry is at school and she is not, or exactly what age Henry is. His help in several of the scenes is invaluable, and my guess is that he'll be back in future books. The other characters, Wigmere, Fagenbush, Trawley and Stilton, have been given deliberately Dickensian names (I suppose to add to the younger reader's enjoyment) but are really no more than outlines of characters.

The suggested age range (9-12) seems absolutely right for this series.

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24 July 2010

Sources of Light; Margaret McMullan

Sources of LightSources of Light by Margaret McMullan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Decent historical fiction about life in Jackson MS in 1962/1963 - what it was like to be white, slightly different, and not totally understand what segregation and racism were. Sam's story, starting with her wanting to be Mary Alice (she of the bra, cute outfits and split-level house) to moving beyond that to becoming a photographer, is rather ordinary. It's the events around her and the way in which she sees them that makes this a better story.

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Out of Sight, Out of Mind; Marilyn Kaye

Out of Sight, Out of Mind (Gifted, #1)Out of Sight, Out of Mind by Marilyn Kaye
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is Freaky Friday with a Mean Girl/Hidden Talents twist: Amanda, the Queen Bee of the Middle School has a problem. If she empathizes with someone, she can actually become that person. In this case, it's Tracey Devon, who has a small vanishing problem of her own.

Take away the fantasy elements and you've got an interesting story about what it is like to be on the outside, looking in at the Queen Bee, and how they might not always be the way you think they are. Amanda has several realizations during her time as Tracey, including the one about how she's actually a bit of a brat to her parents. Tracey's thoughts really only appear in diary form, but I'm guessing that in future books we'll learn more about her.

As far as the fantasy part goes, it's pretty mild. Each of the students in the gifted program has gifts - mind reading, visions, telekinesis, etc. - and Madame helps them to focus on how to appear normal, or control them. Again, as the series moves on I predict that we'll see the class come together to help each other more (as Jenna does here, with both Tracey and Amanda).

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The Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl; Daniel Pinkwater

Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered GirlAdventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl by Daniel Manus Pinkwater
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Most of this book was quite enjoyable - the puns, silly people (a Professor of Classical Accounting who occasionally checks himself into a madhouse) and adventures made me smile. There were moments, however, when I felt that either the author was reaching for filler or that he was just plain reaching. I also wonder about some of his allusions: if a student were to research Poughkeepsie, based on this book, they'd be disappointed (his tale about Bannerman's Island, on the other hand, is a good introduction... minus the trolls).

Fans of this series will not want to miss this book, and if middle school students haven't yet found their way to Pinkwater's works, hand this to them!

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22 July 2010

Vanishing; Deborah Willis

Vanishing and Other StoriesVanishing and Other Stories by Deborah Willis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


What a wonderfully quiet, triste set of short stories! These scenes are nothing flashy, but the stillness and the sadness stay with you after you've read them: at the end, there's always one person, one piece missing from the story. It could be a memory... a promise of what might have been... someone who went/got away... a life less well lived. Whatever it is, it'll get to you.

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20 July 2010

The Waters Rising; Sheri S. Tepper

The Waters RisingThe Waters Rising by Sheri S. Tepper
My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Initially, this book seems to be set in a different era, in a place that could possibly have been the world we know. There is little technology, clothing seems to be vaguely medieval, there's belief in curses and soul bearers, and there are dynastic issues regarding who rules what. I've never read a Tepper book before, and I truly enjoyed this side of it. The mentions of a Before Time and a Big Kill, of knowledge lost and waters rising were interesting, as was the adventure of getting from the Wold to Merhaven without attracting too much attention.

Xulai's meeting Abasio and finding (being found by?) Fisher start off the trek, and getting to know them and Precious Wind, Bear and the others was somewhat slow going but still interesting. Ditto the intrigue in the Abbey, and Alicia/Mirami/Old Man plotting regarding Norland.

Where the book lost me was the grinding halt that came as the backstory, one of suicide killers and nuclear weapons and sectarian hatreds and global warming, was introduced. Suddenly I felt as though I was reading another book entirely, as manipulated as Xulai was regarding the genetic manipulation and climate change issues. When the Sea King essentially says that the only way humans will be allowed to survive is as another species capable of less harm, my interest in the book's ending ended; the final "battle" with the Old Dark Man seemed tacked on. The two themes are (IMVHO) clumsily tied together, which lessens the whole

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19 July 2010

Plain Kate; Erin Bow

Plain KatePlain Kate by Erin Bow
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kate (just plain Kate) is the very talented daughter of a woodcarver; when sickness carries him off, a new guild-approved carver takes over his business, leaving her with nothing but her tools and her father's abandoned stall. Deciding to live in the stall, Plain Kate ekes out an existence carving good luck charms and a few other things. She even foster-mothers three cats (one, Taggle, will stay with her while the other two find new homes). Until one day a strange man, Linay, comes to town.

Linay's clearly not there for anything good, and I'm guessing he picked on Plain Kate because she had no one to defend her. Through various means, he gets the town to view her as a witch then offers her escape: her shadow for her dearest wish. Yes, a new twist on the Faustian bargain! In this case, he knows that her lack of shadow will cause no end of problems. Oh, her wish? Taggle talks.

She joins up with a band of Roamers, which I'm assuming is a nice way of saying Gypsies (although I've heard that Rom is the preferred term) but Taggle's talking and her lack of shadow become a serious problem and she again must escape - this time, Linay takes her in. The relationships between the Roamers and Linay are too pat, even though they're presented as coincidence. Ditto her meeting with Drina at the end.

The interesting bits - life with the Roamers, her carving, the superstitions of the country (unnamed, but sounds like something Eastern European) - are glossed over in favor of the witch/shadow/Linay plot. Too bad, because that might have made the book more interesting rather than as window-dressing for the Revenge Story; the glossary wasn't really necessary either, as all the words are explained in the text.

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18 July 2010

Obabakoak; Bernardo Atxaga

Obabakoak: A NovelObabakoak: A Novel by Bernardo Atxaga
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This loosely-related collection of short stories is definitely worth reading. I must admit that there wasn't much in them that said "Basque literature" in such a way as to separate them from other short stories, and after a while I gave up looking.

Set in either Obaba (a village in the Basque region of Spain) or Hamburg, these stories are relatively quiet and, I thought, have some thread of dream/magical realism running through them. Often the characters are loners with somewhat rich interior lives (although those "riches" could also be taken to be simply "over-active"). There's also a tinge of tragedy in each, a little sad twist at the end.

The last half of the book is ostensibly a journey by a man and his friend to a weekend of storytelling in Obaba, hosted by his uncle. Interspersed with the tale of the journey are the stories each will tell and a few that they pick up along the way. One "story" I particularly liked was "How to Plagiarize" - the rules certainly make sense (and metafiction? brilliant!) and it should be required reading for any aspiring author; the follow-up, "The Crevasse" has me wracking my brain trying to place it.

As I said, there's nothing here that struck me as being particularly Basque about the stories, but perhaps that's not the point. Of course, I don't know a lot about Basque literature to start with so...

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16 July 2010

Swoon at Your Own Risk; Sydney Salter

Swoon at Your Own RiskSwoon at Your Own Risk by Sydney Salter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The writing style bugged me: I've never been a fan of the "write as you talk", uh, you know, school of writing. And some of the gimmick wore thin but... I think that younger girls might, possibly, learn something from this book.

There are many girls (I know, I'm related to at least one and went to school with many others) who "become" their boyfriend. They share his taste in music, wear his favorite color (when I was in junior high, his favorite flavor Bonnie Belle Lip Smacker was, apparently, a make-or-break relationship factor). By the end of this book, Polly's starting to realize that you might be able to have a relationship without all that, by just being your self.

Communication is also stressed, and the characters - particularly Polly - spend too much time talking and not listening. Again, by the end, that's starting to change.

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Dark Flame; Alyson Noel

Dark Flame (The Immortals, #4)Dark Flame by Alyson Noel
My rating: 1 of 5 stars


The fact that I got a hardbound copy of the fourth book in this series from a pile at the publisher's booth should say something - something like, this series isn't selling the way we want. Or that we need to push the books more.

I know that the first book seemed to be heading in a direction that might have promise, except that it also seemed to have a few too many things going on. Well, that's changed. The Immortals reads like the kids from Gossip Girl met Charmed and hung on for dear life. Ever and Haven? Now immortal enemies. I think. Ava? Good in this book, but for how long? Drina? Still gone. I'm guessing she comes back.

If the plot doesn't get you, the constant squinting and shrugging will (luckily for most of the characters, Immortals look really great thanks to their magic elixir, so they won't worry about nasty crow's feet). After a while, I started counting the instances of each! And then there's the overuse/abuse of italics, which appear on every page. Sometimes more than once.

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14 July 2010

Very Valentine; Adriana Trigiani

Very ValentineVery Valentine by Adriana Trigiani
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


The almost perfect beach read! Family drama, business (but an artistic business), food, travel and tons of Italian-American culture whipped into a lighthearted read.

So why "almost perfect"? Maybe I'm too modern, but I just didn't get Valentine's relationship with Roman. The missed Capri vacation, the lack of togetherness time, and all the hints that it wasn't going to work and yet she lets him keep the keys and she never blames him for not putting her first (although I do get that she should also have put him first, in that whole Alphonse/Gaston way).

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13 July 2010

The Gift; James Patterson

The Gift (Witch & Wizard, #2)The Gift by James Patterson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars


The original book got 4 stars from me, but this sequel only gets 2. First of all, why am I getting an ARC to a James Patterson sequel? Perhaps it's not selling as well as his other series? This book is really Witch & Wizard all over again: there's not that much changed in the way of plot, characterization or, well, anything (unlike, say, the Hunger Games trilogy, which does have some set pieces but you do see character growth and a story arc). It's definitely out of the Patterson factory and suffers from the formula.

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Unholy Awakening; Michael Gregorio

Unholy Awakening (Hanno Stiffeniis, #4)Unholy Awakening by Michael Gregorio
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This mystery series is new to me, and while I'm not generally a fan of the historical mystery (Brother Cadfael notwithstanding) this is was a good read.

Set during the French occupation of Prussia (during Napoleon's reign), it's also a time when reason and superstition collide. Our hero is firmly on the side of reason, looking for natural causes for the supposedly supernatural. In this case, deaths caused by a vampire - the local population wants to dig up the bodies and stake them, he'd prefer to look among the very living for the murder. He's also all too human, allowing the main suspect to seduce him away from his suspicions; had he paid more attention, the mystery might have been solved earlier.

Of course the world of that time is graphically described, and if you've got a suggestible nose this is not the series for you! The clash between the French and the Prussians is also very well described.

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12 July 2010

Between Shades of Gray; Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of GrayBetween Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
My rating: 2 of 5 stars


This ARC was handed to me by one of the Penguin editors, saying that it was her favorite ARC of the upcoming season. I can see why: this was a younger woman, possibly 20 years younger than I am, and she probably didn't have the endless Holocaust discussions and readings that I had. This isn't about the Holocaust, it's about Stalin's internal deportations, but the story is so achingly similar. Any people forced to leave their homes, starved and humiliated and worked into submission and death leave similar stories and documents.

My reaction to it feels churlish, because it's not my favorite recent read. If I were younger, with fewer of this type of book behind me, I'd probably respond very differently.

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Stitches; David Small

StitchesStitches by David SmallMy rating: 5 of 5 stars

Having heard David Small speak at this year's RUSA Literary Tastes breakfast gave me a greater appreciation for his graphic novel of an autobiography. His humor (even in the fact of technical difficulty!) made me want to read what for me is a difficult genre to appreciate fully (yet, unlike most manga, this was easy for me to follow).

David's tale of living in a very difficult, one might say strange, household, complete with visits to his clinically insane grandmother is priceless. The addition of his "growth" and learning that it was, in fact, cancer added a poignant twist that kept this from being an everystory.

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Revolution; Jennifer Donnelly

RevolutionRevolution by Jennifer Donnelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


It took something like ten years for us to get another book from the author of A Northern Light (which I loved in equal parts because of the story and the fact that it took place pretty much in the same place I'd been a chambermaid when I was a teen). And now, this. Again, the settings are familiar - Brooklyn Heights and Paris. The former I know really well, the latter well enough. She gets the feel of both places exactly right (and I know what school St. Anselm's stands in for - it's a perfect match).

As for the story, it's not just your usual historical time-travel device. It's never clear if Andi is actually there in the 1700s, or if this is a reaction to the Qwell and hitting her head, kind of like Dorothy at the end of the movie. It's always difficult to have historical fiction with Real Live Celebrities in it, because it feels like all those people who do past-life regression and are Cleopatra or Francis Drake but never the chambermaid. Andi is, at first, observing Alex's life, reading about it in her diary (another device that gets overused in this type of fiction); the ending, with her in the catacombs, doesn't have her interacting with anyone we'd really know, a good authorial choice.

The ending does feel a little pat, a little too neatly tied up. Still, it's a minor quibble and I decided to go with five stars because the whole was better than its parts.

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11 July 2010

Beautiful Darkness; Kami Garcia

Beautiful Darkness (Caster Chronicles, #2)Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This second book about the Casters is quite good, delving deeper into the worlds of Mortals and Casters while also exploring the very human idea of identity.

On one level it's about Lena, the Caster, and Ethan, the Mortal, and their Mortal or Caster relatives (and animals) and a few Keepers. On another it's about whether we allow others to define us and whether we have free will. I enjoyed both levels, sometimes one more than the other.

The reason for the three stars? The segue to the next book, and the issues/conflicts it will hold are very obvious (sledgehammer obvious at times), and there are questions that could have been answered in place of exposition to things that didn't matter that much.

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10 July 2010

The Danger Box; Blue Balliett

The Danger BoxThe Danger Box by Blue Balliett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Zoomy is an OCD/ASD child with Pathological Myopia and he's being raised by his grandparents in a small, backward town in Michigan. Sounds promising, right? But Zoomy's life isn't that bad - he and his grandparents have constructed a life that works. Then one day (thanks to the mysterious Mr. Zip, his package and Zoomy's alcoholic-thief of a father) that life radically changes. The mystery of the notebook, who Gas is/was, and what will happen to his family are gentle mysteries: not a lot to scare readers, but there are some puzzles for them to solve. As with her other books, there are codes and tons of factual information stuffed into this book; I suspect younger readers enjoy that more than adult readers.

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09 July 2010

Infinite Days: Rebecca Maizel

Infinite Days (Vampire Queen, #1)Infinite Days by Rebecca Maizel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


WHY, publishers, WHY do you insist on turning everything into a series? This book was so good just the way it was - anything more will ruin the enjoyment readers are sure to have when they read Lenah's story. Seriously. There's no need for a sequel. None.

Lenah's a vampire queen. Ancient, old, evil, blah blah blah. Except she's got this one burning desire: to be human again. The love of her very (500-year-long) life, Rhode, finds the ritual that will change her, except in doing so he knows that she's breaking faith the the coven she created. So he hides her as best he can, in a posh boarding school on Cape Cod. There she learns what it's like to be a teenager again. Talk about girl, interrupted! There's computers and CDs and bungee jumping and immodest clothing and all the accoutrements of the 21st century for her to get used to (oh, did I mention her 100-year nap? yeah, no so much with the sleeping beauty, tho').

This is such a refreshing take on the whole vampire myth and I really enjoyed the book. However, I won't read any more in the series because, well, why? This ended in the perfect place. I don't need any thing else.

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Kill the Dead; Richard Kadrey

Kill the Dead (Sandman Slim, #2)Kill the Dead by Richard Kadrey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


What do you say about a book that stars a nephalim who believes that Lucifer may be his father, and who has a head for a roommate/sidekick? It's like Terry Pratchet met up with Anne Rice and then had a date with Buffy!

Not having read the first Sandman Slim book probably won't matter - the backstory is exposited in drips and drabs, and knowing might not make the plot any easier to follow. That's not a bad thing, mind you. Learning about the different types of zombies (apparently there are four), the Sub Rosa and other denizens of Heaven and Hell is fun. Ditto James' war within himself over which side he's on - does he go Uptown or Downtown (he manages to work both sides and get paid for it)?

Definitely a fun read, and a series to look out for.

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07 July 2010

Up from the Blue; Susan Henderson

Up from the Blue: A NovelUp from the Blue: A Novel by Susan Henderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For some reason, this story about Tillie (don't call her Mathilda) and the year she moves to DC and loses her mother, entwined with her having a child of her own years later, resonated with me.

Perhaps it was the fact that we none of us know (or understand) our parents when we're young: they're one-dimensional creatures. Father is a military man, issuing orders and trying to keep everything neat, clean and impersonal. Mother is wilder, a poet and dreamer who doesn't respond well to Dad's orderly nature. In between are Phil and Tillie, who react to their parents' war differently, Phil by shutting down and Tillie by giving in to her impulses. When they move, and Mother disappears, Tillie is bereft until one day she discovers that Father is keeping Mother locked in the basement.

Of course, that's only one side of the story and as the story continues you see that there's more going on than Tillie could possibly imagine. By the time she's grown up, she has become estranged from her father but reaches out to him in a time of crisis. It's then that she starts to realize that he's perhaps different than she'd assumed. The book ends with him leaving for his home, but there's a glimmer of hope that they'll grow into an adult relationship, breaking free of the one the formed when she was eight.

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06 July 2010

Lake Overturn; Vestal McIntyre

Lake Overturn: A Novel Lake Overturn: A Novel by Vestal McIntyre
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

About a third of the way into this book I realized that I really didn't care about any of the many characters. There are so many threads here: Lima, Enrique and Gene, the Halls, Wanda, Coop, Jay, Abby... and none of them made me want to read on. The stories are starting to intersect, and I can sort of imagine where they're leading but that's for other readers to find out.

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05 July 2010

Mr. Tippitt; Charles Elton

Mr. Toppit Mr. Toppit by Charles Elton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got the distinct feeling that the author has read Christopher Milne's The Enchanted Places because the similarity between Christopher Robin and Luke Hayseed is unmistakable. Like the real-life Milne, the fictional Hayman appears to be a rather passive observer in the lives of others: his unstable sister Rachel, his odd mother Martha, the German illustrator of the Hayseed book Lili, and the American "celebrity" Laurie. No matter what the situation, he's tongue-tied and virtually unable to say "no" with ease.

Unlike Luke, the rest of the characters are often more than strange. Laurie's lies and desperation to become part of the Hayman/Hayseed family, for example, or Travis' music career, which mutates out of his relationship with Rachel and Merry. At times I wished we'd stayed with Luke's point of view throughout the book because the veering into Laurie's or Rick's (or even Rachel's) felt forced. Perhaps that's the only way the exposition could have happened but honestly, it wasn't needed. Luke could have explained it all to us quite nicely.

The best part is that this isn't fantasy, and that there really can't be a sequel without ruining that which makes this book work so nicely. I wish I'd been able to give this 4.5 stars.

ARC provided by publisher.

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04 July 2010

I am J; Cris Beam

I Am J I Am J by Cris Beam
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am J falls into that "difficult to read" category that Freaks and Revelations falls into, particularly if you've never had those questions about your identity before. J identifies as male, and has since he was young. Problem is, he's genetically female - naturally, this causes problems. He's not gay, or bi, just trans. Setting this in NYC means that J can experience the problems of being part of a Puerto Rican/Jewish household and attend a "normal" school where people like him are not welcome and find a kind of sanctuary in the school set up for students like him.

His "passing" becomes better and better, and by the end of the book you sense that he's at peace with himself; his friends and family take longer to get there. My guess is that in another setting this might not have been the case. It was also a little too convenient that his BFF, Melissa, was/is a cutter (her recovery seems a little too quick, although it's not really explored in depth; she also seems to have some eating disorders, again not explored).

One quibble about the ending: would any college really refer to their program as "prestigious"?

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You Killed Wesley Payne; Sean Beaudoin

You Killed Wesley Payne You Killed Wesley Payne by Sean Beaudoin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is one of those books that I'm sure that my age is preventing me from appreciating. The pop cultural references, the ironic noir tone and the clicquier-than-thou school just didn't do it for me.

Dalton's career as a private dick means he transfers into and out of schools regularly (neither of his parents seem to do much in the way of what we now call parenting); Salt River is the latest. Everything there costs - even the nurse has a credit card machine. The mystery of who killed Wesley Payne doesn't get solved satisfactorily, but eventually it does get solved after many crosses and double-crosses and the unpeeling of high school layers.

The clique chart at the start of the book and the glossary at the end were supposed to be both helpful and humorous; I just found them too intricate and too belabored. Teen readers may find they appreciate this more.

ARC provided by publisher.

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Stiltsville; Susanna Daniel

Stiltsville: A Novel Stiltsville: A Novel by Susanna Daniel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Stiltsville is firmly in the Anne Rivers Siddons and Maeve Binchey school: a saga (although this one is shorter than most) of a person's life. It's not deep reading, but a good solid beach read.

Frances' life is rather, well, unfixed. She seems to drift in and out of things - her job, her relationship with Dennis, her moving to Miami, her marriage, etc.. There's no sense that she's really passionate about anything that happens to her or her family. Even her husband Dennis' ALS and eventual death seem to be met with the same blase nature with which she meets everything that's come before. The historical mentions could just as easily have been left out of the narrative because they didn't add or change anything.

ARC provided by the publisher.

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03 July 2010

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Undead; Don Borchert

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Undead The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Undead by Don Borchert
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I tried - I really tried to get into this book. But the idea of the Zum and Tom Sawyer? No. The humor of Twain's classic is just lost with the addition of the Zum, and the added bits do nothing to make the story resonate the way the original does. Most of the set pieces are there (the picket fence, the camping trip, Injun Joe, Becky Thacher, etc.) but when you have maggot-infested dead people popping up, well, something's lost.

Please, stop this trend before it happens again.

ARC provided by publisher.

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02 July 2010

Torment; Lauren Kate

Torment (Fallen, #2) Torment by Lauren Kate
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I suppose it's a good sign that this sequel to Fallen didn't get a worse rating, but it didn't get a better one, either. The problem is that I really suspect that this would be one really great story if it were in *one* book not three. But publishers are now demanding trilogies, which means weaker individual books and tons of padding.

Luce is as clueless here as she was in the first book, and her eternal boyfriend Daniel is playing the I'm an Enigma card for all he's worth. The alliance between him and Cam, the reasons for her staying put at Shoreline, their past(s) together are all things he won't share with her. So, naturally, Luce is a little perturbed and cranky, and doesn't follow directions well. The addition of Shelby and Miles to the mix is a good one, but the constant padding of the plot means that they're less well-developed than they could (or should) be.

The battle at the end of the book is also a little odd because nothing is ever fully explained. Who are the Outcasts? What do they want? Etc.. All questions that weren't answered here, and given the questions left hanging (and unanswered) at the end of Fallen, they're unlikely to be answered in the next/final book.

ARC provided by publisher.

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True Prep; Lisa Birnbach

True Prep: It's a Whole New Old World True Prep: It's a Whole New Old World by Lisa Birnbach
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This wasn't a Must Read book, except that when your life seems to be a blend between the Preppy Handbook and the JAP Handbook, well, this really was a Must Read.

The version I read was an ARC, and I really hope that the layout was not final because each page was crowded with text and photos, while the first Handbook had more white space. There were some typos (it's just Emma Willard School, no "the") and omissions (Vera Wang attended Professional Children's School, as did Yo-Yo Ma. George Hamilton was at Hackley School. Trust me on this.) Worse was the tone. It was too, well, serious. Every prep I know has a sense of humor about their preppiness, and the first book conveyed that. This book? Not so much.

As in most things prep, original and oldest is best.

ARC provided by publisher.

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01 July 2010

Sapphique; Catherine Fisher

Sapphique (Incarceron, #2) Sapphique by Catherine Fisher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved Incarceron, and perhaps had too high hopes for Sapphique... it's a good sequel, but not a great sequel. Part of that may have been my hope that it would be more like Fire was to Graceling than an addition to the original story - there's no reason for me to have thought that just wishing.

Anyway, Sapphique picks up shortly after Finn Escapes to Outside, with Claudia and Jared trying to figure out how to work the Portal and Sia trying to prove that Finn is not Prince Giles; Inside, Keiko and Attia are trying to figure out how to Escape as well. As with the first book, the action switches between Inside and Outside frequently. There are few new characters (Nix being the major exception) although several secondary characters play larger roles here.

Once again, the myth of Sapphique's escape plays an important part, as do the Steel Wolves and their opposition to Protocol/Era. The former is explained, while the latter is still taken as a given with little commentary until things start to change. I particularly liked the farmer's take on how Protocol effected him and his life.

The ending felt rushed, with a lot of action taking place in the last few pages, versus longer set pieces earlier (for example, in the Ice Wing). Tightening the pacing would have helped immensely.

ARC provided by publisher.

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