30 October 2011

The Filter Bubble; Eli Pariser

The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding From YouThe Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding From You by Eli Pariser
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How ironic that I chose to read this on my Kindle - a product provided by just the type of corporation Pariser talks about in terms of privacy, filtering, recommending and being generally overly intrusive into our habits! The thing I regret most about buying this version is that there are people to whom I would love to lend the book but can't.

Pariser's position is that we, as a society, have ceded much in the way of privacy and choice to corporations. In some ways it's about the explosion of news sources and our ability to filter out the news we don't want to hear (How many people do you know that only get their news from NPR/New York Times/New Yorker or Fox News/Daily Post? Sadly, I know far too many who are that polarized). This doesn't lend itself to a well-informed, understanding, communicating citizenry.

The other filter comes from how easy it is to allow Google, Amazon, Netflix, etc. to learn from our choices (of searches, purchases, queries, whatever) and to tailor our next experience to meet those previous ones. My buying habits must give Amazon and Google fits, as I've used them as personal and professional resources! The fact that I, in New York, will get different results than friends in Georgia or Germany, is only one problem - friends searching on their laptops in my home will get different results than I do, even though we're separated by a mere few feet.

What actions we take to regulate these companies (who are, after all, not answerable to us, their free users but to their hoping-for-big-payout advertisers and investors) and how we make friends, family and students aware of how their choices affect their on-line experience is important. My gut tells me that the vast majority won't care, even among those that read this book.

In Too Deep; Amanda Grace

In Too DeepIn Too Deep by Amanda Grace
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not a book like Good Girl or Speak, although it does have some of those elements.

We're a few weeks before graduation, and Carter - the golden boy, the one every girl wants - is throwing a party; Sam has decided that it's her last, best chance to make Carter notice her and changes from her usual jeans/t-shirt to a thong, stilettos and a micro-mini. It does get his notice, but not in the way she wants... and things only get worse when someone misinterprets what happened between them. Sam, humiliated by Carter's response to her overture, just wants to forget it happened, particularly since things finally seem to be going well with Nick, the boy-next-door.

>When school starts on Monday and people are staring at her, then asking how she is, she thinks it's all about what really happened, and then she learns it's because they think he raped her. Now, at this point Sam could have done the decent thing and said "no, he didn't" but she's at first too shocked and then too scared to say anything. When she finally does admit that he didn't, she's with a group of former friends who are all being supportive, and they convince her that Carter has been a real jerk for a long time and that a couple of weeks not being Big Man On Campus would be good for him. Of course, this completely backfires on everyone.

Sam's dilemma was written realistically, and I could relate to her distress and confusion about how to handle everything. I particularly liked that she learned the very hard way that doing the easy thing can have lasting consequences. The reason this wasn't a 5-star review was that there were moments, when there was something just a bit off with her relationship with her father. Unlike the other relationships she has, this one read a bit too stereotypical and mostly for effect.

ARC provided by publisher.

Speak No Evil: Marilyn Kaye

Speak No Evil (Gifted, #6)Speak No Evil by Marilyn Kaye
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's always a little worrisome when a publisher has a huge stack of paperbacks of a late-series book, particularly since it was published over a year ago: has the series not been selling? In the case of the Gifted series, that might be what's going on (I don't actually know but I do suspect).

This series tells the story of a very unusual Gifted class at Meadowbrook Middle School. Each book is in many ways a stand-alone, with only a few references to previous books. This is Carter Street's story, a selectively mute boy with no discernible Gift.

Carter's been moved to a Home, under the care of Dr. Paley. Despite all Madame's instructions that what happens in Gifted class stays in Gifted class, Dr. Paley seems to know quite a bit about the class members. He also is convinced that he can cure Carter's mutism and memory loss. The methods do work, and Carter uncovers his history and his Gift. Several of his classmates also want to work with Dr. Paley, who claims he can cure them of their Gifts (contrary to Madame's wishes and methodology - she's working to help them understand and control the Gifts).

What bothered me is that this wants to be a HS book, but it's set in Middle School and that could be the problem. The covers skew older, but the inside is more like Lubar's Hidden Talents.

Copy provided by publisher.

Perfect Escape; Jennifer Brown

Perfect EscapePerfect Escape by Jennifer Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved Hate List and was a little disappointed by Bitter End but this is a return to form for Jennifer Brown.

Kendra's life has been overshadowed by her OCD brother Grayson's problem, and she's tried to be Little Miss Perfect to compensate. There's only one glitch, and she's aware that things are about to radically change for her: possibly expulsion, being kicked out of the National Honor Society and worse. It's not clear exactly what she's done, but it is clear that it's Something Bad. That this all coincides with Grayson's return home after some time away at a hospital doesn't help.

So Kendra decides that the best solution to all this is to get into her car (after having convinced Grayson to stop counting rocks at the nearby quarry) and drive to California, home to her former BFF Zoe. Zoe's parents didn't like the relationship Zoe and Grayson had, and abruptly moved her away - so there are lots of unresolved emotions on all sides. This road trip doesn't meet with Grayson's approval, but slowly he seems to warm to the idea and enjoy the adventure.

Throughout the course of the book I had to remind myself that Grayson was OCD, not ASD; he was always capable of normal interpersonal interactions except when his obsessions took over. Kendra spends time distracting him from his fears and obsessions and the normalcy of their brother/sister relationship is realistic. It was also interesting to see that the book ends on a semi-cliffhanger, in that we don't know how things will get resolved vis-a-vis her problems at school. I liked that sense of "this adventure's over, another one is going to begin but not here", because too many neatly tied loose-ends bothers me. So yay for that!

ARC provided by publisher.

Mercy Lily; Lisa Albert

Mercy LilyMercy Lily by Lisa Albert
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I really wanted to like this book, but it really felt as though the author was writing with a Message, rather than letting the whole Death with Dignity motif happen organically.

Lily is a relatively normal teen, albeit one with no friends. Why? Because when her father died and her mother's MS got worse, she pulled away from her friends and they her. So now Mom's getting worse and Lily has few people in whom she can confide. At the age of 16, she's been working (illegally) as a vet, following her mother's instructions on animal care - she's also giving her mother BVT (Bee Venom Therapy) for the MS but that seems to have stopped working.

How her mother wants to resolve things, and Lily's future, makes up the main plot, while Lily's feelings for the boy-next-door, Trent, are the subplot. The problem is that both plots, along with the renewal of her relationship with Shauna, are pretty obvious and there's no surprise anywhere. There was nothing new here, and that it's set in Oregon is purely to highlight the Death with Dignity issue.

ARC provided by publisher.

Life Eternal; Yvonne Woon

Life Eternal (Dead Beautiful, #2)Life Eternal by Yvonne Woon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Any book that takes place (mostly) in Montreal is going to get 2-stars from me, and this earned a solid 1.5 more (which I'm bumping up to a 4) by 1. being the second in a series yet accessible to those who haven't read the first book and 2. by being a little more interesting than a mere Twilight-esque love triangle.

>Renée is recovering from her soul-swapping adventure with Dante and her parents' deaths when she starts having some strange dreams. They feel real, and to her shock and horror, one actually does become real... but it can't be because she was no where near the scene-of-the-death at the time. Then she learns that Gottfried Academy is going to be solely for the Undead, while all the Monitors there will now be at St. Clement, in Montreal. So there's no reunion for her and Eleanor (what with Eleanor being Undead, etc.). Somehow Renée ends up being the top Monitor in the school, much to her new enemy Clementine's anger. There's a hot Monitor guy, Noah, who comes close to making her forget Dante, and Anya, a Russian-Canadian friend who helps her figure out what's happening with the dreams.

No plot spoilers here, but suffice it to say that the love triangle wasn't as annoying as other recent ones have been, and despite the paranormal elements Renée feels like a real teen. The questions of who the Ninth Sister is and how the whole Monitor/Undead tension will play out is left unresolved - yes, there's a cliffhanger ending. There's a part of me that thinks the resolution to that cliffhanger may end up being obvious, and I really hope the author does something different. We'll see.

ARC provided by publisher

22 October 2011

Mysteries of the Middle Ages; Thomas Cahill

Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science & Art from the Cults of Catholic EuropeMysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science & Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe by Thomas Cahill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This look at the Middle Ages as a turning point in our history was interesting - I'd never really known much about Hildegard, Abelard or Giotto, much less thought of Ravenna as an important city before. There was also a very easy-to-understand discussion of Dante's Divine Comedy and the different religious splits during this time period.

What bothered me, though, was the attempts at humor. Cahill appears to be aiming for a teen audience and inserts comments designed to appeal to someone not necessarily reading this for fun but as part of a class assignment. It also was unnecessary to continually refer to his other books and the "Hinges of History" series.

16 October 2011

The Magician King; Lev Grossman

The Magician KingThe Magician King by Lev Grossman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Grossman picks up the tale of Quentin and the others in Fillory - they're there, ruling quietly, when they go hunting. The hunting leads to the idea Quentin has of a quest (not that big a one, just a few days sail to get the back rent due from the Outer Island). As these things so often go, the quest becomes a Quest and Quentin ends up tackling more than he'd originally anticipated.

Accompanying Quentin is Julia, and I particularly liked how we got Julia's backstory (remember, she wasn't at Brakebills with the others). It's a very different trip to magic than Quentin's and by the end of the book I felt much closer to her than to the "Brakebills" magicians. I was also quite fond of sloth (the representative of the talking animals sent on the q/Quest).

Any reader familiar with the Narnia stories will see many similarities, but Harry Potter, Star Trek, Wind in the Willows and other YA-magical favorites are also referenced. At times I wondered if the similarities detracted from the story as a whole, where pure imagination could have done just as well. There's ample opportunity for another Fillory-esque book here, but a part of me hopes that we simply leave Quentin, Julia, Josh, Poppy and the others with their new lives.

15 October 2011

Snuff; Terry Pratchett

Snuff (Discworld, #39)Snuff by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I truly love me some Terry Pratchett - I've read virtually everything he's written, including the lesser-known Bromeliad trilogy, and if you can get your hands on Only You Can Save Mankind (from the Johnny Maxwell trilogy) do so immediately!

Anyway, Snuff continues the Ankh-Morpork Watch series, this time taking Commander Sam Vimes (and the Duke of Ankh, Sir Samuel Vimes and Blackboard Monitor Vimes) on vacation to the Shires, specifically to Ramkin Hall, Lady Sybil's ancestral home. Vimes is a fish-out-of-water here, or more accurately copper-off-the-streets, missing the noise and smell and general crime of the city. Of course things change, and he ends up with yet another title, King of the River. Along the way we meet goblins, a blacksmith and several other characters who one hopes become part of the Discworld family.

So why the four and not a five? Two reasons: the first is that I chuckled, not laughed, and the second (much more important) is that there's no DEATH. I miss DEATH. Doesn't every one?

12 October 2011

Harbor; John Ajvide Lindqvist

HarborHarbor by John Ajvide Lindqvist
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Growing up, books like Harvest Home and The Other were perfect late night reads - Harbor (written by the author of the book that gave rise to the movie "Let the Right One In") easily fits in with that genre. Not full-on horror, but seriously creepy village horror.

We start out thousands of years ago as the Domaro archipelago is being formed, then flash-forward to more modern times. Anders' life has been ruined by the complete disappearance of Maja, his daughter. Moving between his adolescence, his life post-disappearance, his "grandfather" Simon's early years and a few other time periods, it becomes clear that there's something Not Quite Right about Domaro or the surrounding areas. Anna-Greta, Anders' grandmother, clearly has something to do with this, but exactly what only becomes clear later in the book.

Adding to the creep factor is the question of why seemingly ordinary people go nuts, why the most beautiful girl of Anders' generation is having plastic surgery to make her ugly and old, and what the Spiritus that Simon tends is. If this were in Stephen King's hands there'd be more detail, here it's what's left out that counts most.

ARC provided by publisher.

11 October 2011

The Perils of Peace; Thomas Fleming

The Perils of Peace: America's Struggle for Survival After YorktownThe Perils of Peace: America's Struggle for Survival After Yorktown by Thomas D. Fleming
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What an interesting filler to the American history I learned in school! It always seemed that we went from the signing of the Declaration to the signing of the Constitution relatively easily, but in truth there was much more going on. In this book, covering the time between the victory at Yorktown through Washington's stepping down as Commander-in-Chief, we get a really in-depth look at just how chaotic that time was.

Based on films like "1776" and "The Adams Chronicles" I didn't know that John Adams and Ben Franklin were anything other than friends, but apparently they really disliked each other. As they both try to negotiate a peace treaty, recognition of the new country and secure loans (at first with Franklin based in France, Adams in Holland and then together in France) their back-biting didn't help our cause. Neither did the strong loyalist population still in the former colonies, or the fact that the British still held three major cities and didn't want to give them up. The lack of funds to pay the army was also a major problem. And then there was the issue of Gibraltar...

Given how little time teachers have to spend on our history if they're going to cover 200-300+ years, it's not surprising that all this has been neglected. I'm glad some of the missing has been filled in for me!

05 October 2011

Brooklyn; Colm Tóibín

BrooklynBrooklyn by Colm Tóibín
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every year I vow I'm going to read more of the Booker short list and every year I fail to do so: here's one reason why everyone should be reading from that list.

Toibin's portrait of Eilis, an Irish girl in a small town with few prospects (for her or the town) is one of those quiet books - no great action sequences, just an ordinary person going about her ordinary life. Her sister arranges for her to go to America, to Brooklyn, and Eilis rather meekly goes; when her sister dies, Eilis goes back to Ireland. It was surprising to me that she actually does return to Brooklyn and her life in America, because she really is a very passive person.

The part of Brooklyn she lives and works in is the area I lived in, and the changes from the 50s (Irish) through the early 90s (still rather Italian, but more yuppies moving in) were interesting. I also liked the way the integration of the Fulton Mall area was handled.

04 October 2011

Gordon; Edith Templeton

Gordon: A NovelGordon: A Novel by Edith Templeton
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I have no idea how I ended up with a copy of this. The cover says "sadomasochism" and "comedy of manners a la Edith Wharton" but, well, it didn't do too well at either. There was a lot of Freudian talk (Gordon is a psychoanalyst) and the sex was there, but it all felt stilted and forced (no pun intended).

>Definitely not for a school collection, and not long for mine, either.

03 October 2011

Famous; Kathleen Flenniken

Famous (Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry)Famous by Kathleen Flenniken
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am really not a poetry person, so that this got four stars should really say something!

These are quiet poems about relatively mundane things - a Holiday Inn, for example, or the marriage bed; some are about semi-famous people (Mary Todd Lincoln). My favorite is "How to Read This Story to Your Children", which encapsulates what I think of when I read aloud.

It's a keeper, and perhaps even a book to be re-read sometime soon.

Rock On; Denise Vega

Rock OnRock On by Denise Vega
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This brother v. brother story is told with more realism than I'd anticipated: Del is a high school lacrosse star turned college drop-out, while Ori is the dorky guitar-playing kid brother. We don't focus on that as much, though, because the book is also about Ori's unnamed band, his lack of luck with girls, his love of music and desire for a Les Paul guitar with which to win the Battle of the Bands. The plot was a bit predictable, but in a good way (I know, that's odd, but trust me on this).

Even the fact that this was told in texts, website screenshots, straight narrative and IMs didn't feel forced and gimicky. Kids use all those methods (well, not the straight narrative, but the others) and the way they blended into the story made sense. It was also nice to have this be a boy-based story, although there's definite girl appeal here.

ARC provided by publisher.

Boy 21; Matthew Quick

Boy21Boy21 by Matthew Quick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Boy21" (aka "Russell") and Finley (aka "White Rabbit") are in some ways mirror images of each other: they stand out at their schools and on their basketball teams, basketball is their lives, and they share a loss. When Boy21 moves to Finley's town and Coach asks Finley to befriend the new student, little to they expect to become friends.

Loss - tragic loss - can lead people to shut down in different ways; they can retreat from reality, they can channel their energies into other paths, and they can try to blend in with the background. These two boys explore all those coping mechanisms, and by the end of the book it's clear that there has been some healing.

This will appeal to boys, particularly those who feel they don't fit in or who have some personal problem or loss. The focus Finley and Russell put on basketball is also appealing, as is the fact that they are not in a privileged suburb or school. It surprised me to learn that this was set in Pennsylvania, near to Philadelphia, rather than near Boston, but I suppose "Bellmont"s exist all over the country.

ARC provided by publisher.

02 October 2011

The Rivals; Daisy Whitney

The Rivals (The Mockingbirds, #2)The Rivals by Daisy Whitney< My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of the main issues I had with The Mockingbirds is addressed here: how any one supposedly underground group have that much influence on the rest of the students? Think about it. There's a whole lot of buy-in that needs to happen, and if one of the accused chooses to ignore the Mockingbirds, the system falls apart. So I was glad that the author tackles that in the sequel.

It was also good to see that Alex, in her role as leader of the Mockinbirds, is not perfect. She makes mistakes in judgement, she allows personal feelings to get in the way of the supposedly dispassionate nature of the investigation, and she does some decidedly stupid things. Her relationship with Martin definitely felt real, as did her relationships with her friends. I also liked the tie-ins to two of the classics of YA literature, which made me think of them in more modern terms (and yes, I realize that was part of the author's intent).

So why the drop from four to three stars? Several reasons: 1. the adults are little more than cookie-cutters, 2. many of the characters had too much baggage (not that teens don't have baggage, but these had pressures from parents that didn't seem necessary to include in the book), and 3. while students may use "prep" and "prep school", administrators don't. They'd call Themis an independent school or a college preparatory school, not a prep school. I say this having attended one and worked in others. It grated. But that's not something most readers will notice.

My guess is that there's at least one more book with this main cast and it could all-too-tidily remake Themis or it could show a continued tension between the Mockingbirds and the Watchdogs. Either will be interesting.

ARC provided by publisher.

Tiger's Voyage; Colleen Houck

Tiger's Voyage (Tiger Series, #3)Tiger's Voyage by Colleen Houck
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

A DNF: after 50 pages, I could barely grasp the plot. As followers of my reviews know, when I read a series book that isn't the first one, I look for how easy it is to get into the world and pick up the plot - the start of Tiger's Voyage was filled with information that could only be understood if you'd read previous books.

Readers who enjoyed the first and second books may enjoy this one.

ARC provided by publisher.

01 October 2011

How to Save a Life; Sara Zarr

How to Save a LifeHow to Save a Life by Sara Zarr
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jill's father died two years ago, and Jill's still dealing with her acute loss; her mother, Robin, also grieving, has decided to adopt a baby. Maddy is the child of a casino waitress, unwanted and abused by her mother's boyfriend. Maddy has agreed to give her child to Robin, much to Jill's dismay.

During the time that Maddy stays with Robin and Jill you can see the relationships between them changing; Jill's life becomes a little easier, her relationships with friends and family returning to something like normal. Maddy finds a family in Robin and Jill.

There's nothing really different about this book, or plot, but I can see where teens will really enjoy it.

ARC provided by publisher.