30 January 2011

Across the Universe; Beth Revis

Across the Universe (Across the Universe, #1)Across the Universe by Beth Revis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm trying really hard to pretend that this isn't going to be another series (or, to use the word this society created, another frexing series). Really really hard. Because the ending is just, well, right.

First off, frexing is too similar to frelling or fracking - so you know there's nothing incredibly creative here. The cryogenic freezing scene and Amy's dreams are a little difficult to take, but mixed with Elder's story you get to step away often enough to make them bearable. One of my students couldn't get into the book, calling it confusing, and I can see why she thought that: Amy and Elder sound alike, and if you don't understand the first premise (there's a ship heading from Earth to some star around Alpha Centori) you will get confused.

So what's life like on the ship? It's controlled, it's passive, and more than a little odd. The Feeders were Stepford people, with a hint of The Giver thrown in. Since we never really explored the Shipper level, we only see the Feeders and the people on Ward 3, the ones that get the Inhibitor pills. The latter are the only "normal" people on this ship. Amy, who was cryogenically frozen and then thawed before her time, is of course struck by the oddity of all this.

At the heart of the book is a simple mystery: who unfroze Amy, and who is trying to unfreeze others? No one but Amy survived their thawing. The answer was one that I'd guessed about halfway through the book, but I think that others will be surprised (just go on the Sherlockian theory that once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth).

As for the sci-fi aspects, they're derivative. Amy even says that before she and her parents were frozen, they'd watched the "Star" movies and series (Wars... Trek... and probably Gate). The book felt a little more like "Star Trek" (particularly the premise behind the "Voyager" series) than the other two, with some dystopian elements tossed in.

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Wolfsbane; Andrea Cremer

Wolfsbane (Nightshade, #2)Wolfsbane by Andrea Cremer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I really liked Nightshade and had high hopes for the next book but, well... sigh. One of the problems I identified in the first book remains, that of the ending. It's not a cliff-hanger, it's more like you're being thrown off the cliff: the ending is too abrupt. The narrative thread is snipped in what feels like an arbitrary fashion.

And then there's the prose. It's lilac, not quite purple. On one randomly chosen page, we have eyes widening ... gazing as though seeing the other character for the first time... lips thinly smiling... a challenging stare... voices bubbling with outrage... and finally, eyes bulging. Every conversation, every action is overwrought - at some point, it calls attention to the writing, detracting from the plot. The action tends to lurch, with few moments for people to catch their breath or adequately plot or plan the next move. When Calla cuts her hair, it could have served as time for the girls to regroup but that respite lasts all of a few pages and then - We're Off Again!! The first book's discussion of the history and legacy of the Seekers and Guardians and so forth is gone, and it's missed.

Once more, I'm struck by the padding. This doesn't feel like a trilogy, with one more book coming to wrap up the threads (and checking the author's website I see there's one final book and then a companion novel). It feels like it should be just two books, with tighter editing and fewer guilt-bitten guts.

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28 January 2011

The Iron Thorn; Caitlin Kittredge

The Iron Thorn (Iron Codex, #1)The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kittredge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book loses points by being the start of a series. Please, publishers, Stop.The.Madness.

Never having read steampunk, I went into this assuming nothing. Only later did I learn that there are certain conventions (goggles and dirigibles included, apparently). So I can't rule on this as an example of that genre, but as fantasy this certainly had some interesting ideas.

The setting is an alternate Boston, Lovecraft, where Rationality has taken over from Spirituality, where heretics are rounded up because they believe in silly things like fairy tales, and where the government has restricted travel and controls the citizens in near dystopian fashion. Aoife is a ward of the state thanks to her absent father and mad mother (oh, yeah, at 16 she'll develop what's known as the necrovirus). Her brother sends her a hidden message that leads her to escape from Lovecraft with Cal, her only - and best - friend, and Dean, their guide.

Heading to Arkham, Aoife's assumptions and beliefs about her family, the necrovirus and the way the world works are shaken. Her Weird develops, and she's conned into a task set by Tavernier, the Regent of Winter in the Thorn Land.

I liked the story, and the use of aether/steam power, but disliked the padding (too many descriptions, some repetitive, for example). And of course there's the whole series aspect...

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27 January 2011

Gideon's Sword; Douglas Preston

Gideon's Sword (Gideon Crew #1)Gideon's Sword by Douglas PrestonMy rating: 3 of 5 stars

The idea that someone would devote their life to avenging their father's frame-up and murder isn't new, although Gideon Crew does go about it in an interesting way. To then be hired as an independent contractor by an independent contractor to some government agency to retrieve information from a Chinese defector... not so usual (although that particular career isn't unique in the annals of fiction).

What would have made Gideon's quest to obtain the new technology really interesting would have been more of the computer sleuthing, less of the violence. His brief adventure into the world of Falun Gong was too brief, and I never quite felt what the author presents as real feeling for Orchid. It was amusing that his semi-minder, Garza, mentions several times how much of an amateur Gideon is.

The fact that his unpredictability comes from only having a year left is a nice twist, although I wonder how long the authors are going to go with that. What I mean is, this is a series - how many jobs can one person do in a year?

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23 January 2011

Georgia Bottoms; Mark Childress

Georgia Bottoms: A NovelGeorgia Bottoms: A Novel by Mark Childress
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Georgia is a Southern belle with a twist: she's beautiful, she's smart, and she's got a different lover six nights of the week. Her life is starting to unravel, though, as she's getting older and the world changes.

We open in 2001, early September, when Mr. Saturday Night, also known as the Rev. Hendrix, has a sudden attack of honesty and confesses to his wife that he's been unfaithful. He then decides to confess to his congregation, but Georgia's too quick for him. Two days later is September 11, and the pace of change and disruption grows faster.

Between Brother's antics (legal, illegal and just skirting the edge) and Little Mother's dementia, there's also some trouble with various paramours, Nathan (Georgia's illegitimate son), Krystal's reelection and finally Rev. Brent Colgate. At the end of the book, Georgia's life has changed radically, one hopes for the better.

I'm usually not a fan of Southern fiction, but this gave me a few "hehs" (not quite a laugh, not quite a grin). If you are a fan of Southern fiction, you'll enjoy it.

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Darkest Mercy; Melissa Marr

Darkest Mercy (Wicked Lovely, #5)Darkest Mercy by Melissa Marr< My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While you don't need to have read the previous books in the series, it definitely will help keep the different Courts and allegiances straight (although if might be better to read the first books right before reading this one, as distance can make things confusing!).

This is the last of the Wicked Lovely series, and many of the plot lines do get tied up. Not all, which is good because it's nice to have some room for the reader's imagination. All the major characters are here: Ash, Naill, Seth, Irial, Donia, Sorcha, Evan, Leslie, Keenen and so on, but Ms. Marr has also found room for a new one, Far Dorcha, and a minor one, Innis. Actually, I wish we'd seen more of Innis!

In addition to untangling some of the emotional twists and turns, there's also the matter of balance between the Courts themselves and between Faerie and the Courts. After one of those climactic battles that these books always seem to have, that matter gets resolved in an unusual way.

Some of the plot resolutions were obvious, but if things had gone differently the fans of this series would probably be very disappointed. As it is, I sense that those on Team Seth or Team Keenan won't be thrilled with how that triangle gets resolved.

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Mr. Chartwell; Rebecca Hunt

Mr. ChartwellMr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Historical fiction with a twist: the weekend before Winston Churchill retires, a librarian at the Westminster Library gets a new tenant, a huge (ok, beyond huge) black dog. "Mr. Chartwell" is the embodiment of the depression that Churchill suffered most of his life - Esther is starting down that path, and because their lives are linked, "Black Pat" (his other name) decides to move in.

This isn't historical fiction where you get a real look at the lives of the people during that time, it's a glimpse of an historical moment. Esther's life was shattered two years earlier when her husband committed suicide, and on the anniversary of his death she starts to sink into depression. Hence Mr. Chartwell's visit. Churchill is retiring, an event that would lead anyone to depression. Hence Black Pat's reappearance in his life.

The question of how depression affects people, what it looks like and feels like, how a Mr. Chartwell can destroy a house or a life is an interesting one. That's what makes this book such a different type of historical fiction, as it's less about the event and more about the emotions.

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Glitz; Philana Marie Boles

GlitzGlitz by Philana Marie Boles
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The story of a well-brought-up (one might say coddled and protected) girl being entranced by a so-called bad girl is classic; in this case, the setting is Toledo and the world of hip-hop.

Ann Michele uses hip-hop songs as a way of imagining a world beyond Toledo and her strict Gramma, and meeting Raquel (aka "Raq") starts her on the road to seeing things outside her normal sphere. Gramma is convinced Raq is a devil-worshiping, drug taking slut - Ann Michele is entranced by her devil-may-care attitude and appreciation for the same music and language that Ann Michele likes. One Hallowe'en they head to a party and end up spending a week with an up-and-coming rapper named Piper and his crew.

I'm not sure why Gramma doesn't trust Raq's foster parents to provide a safe environment for Ann Michele, but she doesn't. It is true to Raq's life is one of lies, stealing and taking advantage of those around her, but even as she morphs into Glitz it's clear that Ann Michele is troubled by that side of her friend.

The language may take some decoding if you're not into hip-hop, but the story will appeal to most teens.

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22 January 2011

Exposure; Kimberly Marcus

ExposedExposed by Kimberly Marcus
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a wonderfully provocative book. Exposed is the story of Liz, aka Photogirl, who lives to take photographs and dreams of going to RSID or Parsons or some other art school. She has a boyfriend, and a "forever-best" friend, Kate. She also has a relatively happy home life, with older brother Mike off at college, and dad working as a ferry captain between Cape Cod and the Vineyard.

One weekend a month, Kate and Liz have a slumber party - everyone knows about it, everyone respects it, including their boyfriends. This time, however, they get into an argument: Liz doesn't like Kate's boyfriend (he's a bit "whipped") and really doesn't like that Kate isn't planning to continue her dancing in college. Liz goes upstairs to sleep...

The next day, everything has changed. Kate is distant, avoiding Liz both on the phone and in school. Then Liz hears the news, Kate says Mike, Liz' brother, raped her after Liz went upstairs. Mike says it was "just sex". Because we only get Liz' story, where the truth lies is never quite clear, even to Liz.

I can easily see this leading to discussions about rape, date rape, "just sex" and other varieties of experience. Readers who love books in verse will enjoy that aspect, and those that don't won't find it getting the way of the story.

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21 January 2011

Delirium; Lauren Oliver

Delirium (Delirium, #1)Delirium by Lauren Oliver
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sadly, this book didn't seem new to me: it's a little like Matched, a little like The Giver, a little like other dystopian novels where society has been 'cured' of something (like cancer, or emotion, or growing old or - in this case - love).

While the librarian in me truly enjoyed the Book of Shhh (formally known as The Safety, Health and Happiness Handbook), the reader in me was annoyed by the padding. Too much time on Lena's sorrow over losing her mother and how her mother's "cure" didn't take, too much time on the running, on how Portland had changed since the border went up, on Hana and Lena's friendship, etc.. It's one of the biggest problems with series books and one I'm increasingly intolerant of.

The Stepford United States' war against the Wilds and the Invalids, Hana's near rebellion and Grace were far more interesting, and far less discussed. The ending was good in the sense that you don't feel cheated into buying and reading the next book; just enough of a cliffhanger should you want to continue, but it ends in a good place should you want to create the future for yourself.

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19 January 2011

Timeless; Alexandra Monir

TimelessTimeless by Alexandra Monir
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had such high hopes for this book - I love time travel, and the contrast between New York in 1910 and 2010 was so well done. But at the end, instead of a Happily Ever After or a You Decide What Happens, there's a To Be Continued. Seriously? This doesn't need a sequel.

Michele Windsor's life in NY is so very different from her life in California: instead of a small house she shares with her mother, she's now living in a mansion with her grandparents. And school is a whole new thing, because for the first time she's the new girl (not to mention that she's somehow supposed to be part of the Four Hundred revival because of her family, when she'd really rather not).

Then there's Clara's diary, and the key, and the trips back in time. Only her female ancestors can see her, which gives her a sense of the family she never knew about. Well, that's not completely true, Philip can also see her; he's the son of the Windsor's rivals, the Walkers. He's a musician, not a businessman, engaged to one of Clara's sisters. Meeting Michele changes his life, in more ways than one.

As I said, the time travel aspects were interesting (although there could have been more detail about the lifestyles back then) and the way in which Michele interacts with her family's history works. But the "to be continued"? Bah.

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18 January 2011

Drought; Pam Bachorz

DroughtDrought by Pam Bachorz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finally, a fantasy author not afraid to write one-offs! I liked Candor and was looking forward to Ms. Bachorz' next effort - Drought is a worthy follow-up.

This is like Tuck Everlasting going horribly wrong: a man named Otto appeared out of the woods in 1812, collecting water from leaves and grass with a pewter cup. Then, by adding a couple of drops of his own blood, he created Water... 200 years later, in upstate New York (northeast of Albany, near Hoosick Falls), a compound of Congregants lives under Darwin West's thumb. Their task is to continue Otto's work, gathering water for him to sell to the Visitor. There are Overseers who watch their every move, and if they fail to make quota, there are whippings.

Sula, the pastor of this Congregation, leads Sunday services in Otto's name - all is done in the eternal wait for Otto's return. She takes the beatings, and turns water into Water using vials of blood Otto left. When that runs out, her and Otto's daughter Ruby's blood sustains the community and keeps it going. Ruby, unfortunately, is starting to ask questions (after 200 years, one would hope so): why don't they want to be free? will Otto ever come? What keeps her there is the knowledge that without her blood, the Congregation will die.

I won't go any further, because to do so would spoil the book; suffice it to say that this won't disappoint. Amazingly, there are questions left unanswered (no obnoxious epilogues, no sequels) and readers can decide for themselves what will happen.

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Gossip from the Girls' Room; Rose Cooper

Gossip From the Girls' Room: A Blogtastic! NovelGossip From the Girls' Room: A Blogtastic! Novel by Rose Cooper

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not quite as bloggy as Lauren Myracle's TTFN series, but definitely in the family (along with The Popularity Papers, TMI and other middle-school blogger books).

This isn't really a blog, more a notebook about a blog, where Sofia's pre-blog thoughts are jotted down. Of course there's the BFF, and the Girl We Hate - oddly there's no Current Crush (on Sofia's part, anyway). The blog is part of her "activity" class, journalism, and is supposed to capture all the gossip that's fit to blog. Of course she makes mistakes (her advisor's commentslectures will be good pointers for real-life bloggers) and learns a few lessons about what to blog along the way.

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The Lost Saint; Bree Despain

The Lost Saint (The Dark Divine,  #2)The Lost Saint by Bree Despain
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

One of the best ways to judge a series is if you can easily slip into a later book, not having read the first. This series is not one of those series, unfortunately.

The Lost Saint is a little heavy-handed with names (Grace Divine? Daniel? Gabriel? Jude? Any of those names ring bells? If not, check out your nearest Bible) and with mythology. Apparently werewolves can be just that or they can be Urbat (aka "Hounds of Heaven" - see the Biblical overtones?). There are alphas and betas and true alphas and challenges, not to mention Galel and Akhs and other creatures. Confused yet? While things do get explained in the book, it does take a while, particularly with the double crossings and conflicts going on.

As for plot, it's clear that once again we have a series that is being stretched thin, with padding and filler rather than tight editing. Egmont is usually a better publisher than this, so I can only imagine that they're trying to keep up with the bigger houses. In short, Grace is trying to find her "lost saint" brother Jude, who is now a werewolf (and who has infected her, just after she cures Daniel from the same curse) and trying to keep her family together - Mom's falling apart with Jude gone, and Dad's away often trying to find him. Daniel is trying to train Grace to channel her "talents" or "abilities" (guess someone's watching "Smallville" for dialog ideas), yet also telling her to hold back. There's Talbot, a mysterious werewolf fighter (or is he?) and Gabriel (ditto), and much mayhem and slaying (the dusting part is pure Buffy).

If this is the type of series you like, there's no reason not to read it, but it is derivative and (as I said earlier) padded.

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17 January 2011

The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues; Ellen Raskin

The Tatooed PotatoThe Tatooed Potato by Ellen RaskinMy rating: 3 of 5 stars

How observant are you? That's the question Garson asks of the unfortunately named Dickory Dock, his new assistant. Garson's a painter - somewhat slick, not particularly insightful - who owns a townhouse in Greenwich Village. Soon after Dickory starts, Garson moves to the top two floors, leaving the ground floor to Manny Mallomar and Shrimps Marinara, and Isaac, the disfigured deaf-mute.

Dickory's life becomes more complicated when Inspector Quinn asks Garson's help solving a mystery... and then another mystery... and then a third mystery. Taking on the personae of Inspector Nosegar and Sergeant Kod, Dickory and Garson assist the police by looking beneath the surface of the crime. It turns out, however, that the police don't really need their help - they're trying to solve the crime going on inside the townhouse.

There's humor, mild violence, and much to keep middle grade readers interested.

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The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon; Ellen Raskin

Mysterious Disappearance of LeonMysterious Disappearance of Leon by Ellen Raskin
YMy rating: 3 of 5 stars

The reprint of Mysterious Disappearance of Leon will be a hit with those that love the Blue Baillet mysteries. Instead of codes, there are word puzzles to solve, all stemming from the garbled declarations of a drowning man.

A child-bride, heiress to a soup fortune, seeks her husband fourteen years after they marry; a boating accident in which Leon (oops! Noel) disappears leads to a 20+ year hunt through cities with St. Paul churches, New in their title, Chinese restaurants with won ton soups, seals and other oddities. Mrs. Carillon's quest also includes adopting two non-Siamese twins, Tina and Tony, wearing a purple bathing suit at all times, and a stint in the pest-hole after sort-of inciting a riot in Blookmingales.

Eventually, all is solved, people live happily ever after, and readers who like puzzles will have had fun.

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Figgs & Phantoms; Ellen Raskin

Figgs  &  PhantomsFiggs & Phantoms by Ellen Raskin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mona Newton's life is a trying one: she's constantly embarrassed by her flamboyant family, the Figgs, and really only connects with her uncle Florence. Together they form the Figg-Newton Giant, who appears once a month to steal books from the top shelf of Ebenezer Bargain's book store, and then walk slowly back to Newton "Newt" Newton (aka "Dad")'s used car lot.

The Figg family follows a strange religion, one based on finding a mysterious island, Capri (not the one we all know). Several of the Figg forebears have found it, leaving behind notes that the family reads out in a monthly ritual. Florence is preparing to leave for Capri himself, much to Mona's dismay. When he does finally leave - or die, as the rest of the world sees it - Mona is distraught and, in her grief, she manages to visit Capri for a little while.

I wouldn't call this magical realism for kids, but it's close. The oddness of the Figg-Newton clan, the concept of Capri, and the interjections from the people of Pineapple (the town in which this all takes place) might confuse younger readers but if they stick with it they should enjoy this reprint.

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16 January 2011

Unearthly; Cynthia Hand

Unearthly (Unearthly, #1)Unearthly by Cynthia Hand
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So, you're not completely comfortable with the whole vampire/werewolf/zombie craze, but you want to write (or read) a book about supernatural forces? Angels fit the bill. So, books like Halo and Unearthly get written. Correction: trilogies starting with books like Halo and Unearthly get written.

That's not necessarily a good thing. More and more trilogies are being written, with thinly stretched plots that, with serious editing and tightening, could make one decent book. But as a trilogy? Not so much. Particularly not when there's nothing really new or special about the plot, as is the case here.

Clara is part-angel (one quarter, through her half-blood mother). Angels are here on earth for a purpose, and she's learning what hers is... something to do with saving a boy (named Christian) from a fire in Wyoming. Problem is, she's also falling in love with Tucker (her new friend Wendy's twin) and learning all she can about angels from Angela (her other new friend) and trying to fly. And then there's Mom, 100+ and still going strong, except that something about Wyoming doesn't quite agree with her. And let's not forget Jeffrey, her younger (also angelic) brother who isn't quite trying to fit in.

Sigh. Relatively predictable if you're read any of these trilogies. Equally predictable is what will happen in Books Two and Three. But if angel books, even predictable ones, are your thing, this is the series for you.

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Bitter Melon; Cara Chow

Bitter MelonBitter Melon by Cara Chow
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Frances' life reminded me of the many tales I've heard of my parent's generation of Jewish children growing up in places like the Lower East Side or the Bronx: their parents sacrificed and scrimped so that the next generation could do better, achieve more, and only certain schools and the highest grades, the most correct behavior was allowed. Who needs sports? Who needs dates?

That Bitter Melon is set in 1989, rather than 1939 (or earlier) is what will surprise readers. Aren't we supposed to be more enlightened now, don't parents realize that praise and encouragement are "best" for their children? And how can you possibly apply to college without a c.v. filled with extra-curriculars like volunteering and music? It was interesting reading this just as the Tiger Mom issue flared, as it highlighted the truth behind the story.

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Ten Thousand Saints; Eleanor Henderson

Ten Thousand Saints: A NovelTen Thousand Saints: A Novel by Eleanor Henderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was expecting something closer to The Taqwacores and Freaks and Revelations but Ten Thousand Saints doesn't focus as much on the straight edge scene as it does on Jude's search for love, and the competition for who will carry on Teddy's memory.

Why the author chose to rename Burlington is unknown, because it's pretty clear that Lintonburg is the stand-in (seriously, when you mention the ferry to Plattsburg, you're not exactly hiding the locale). Still, this look at the grittier side - the one the university students don't see - could be in any small-medium size New England city. Getting high is the escape, until Jude's birthday (aka New Year's Eve) when Teddy does just a little too much and dies during the freezing night.

He dies having left a little piece of himself behind, in the form of Eliza's baby, thus setting the rest of the book in motion. Our introduction to the straight edge life (no drugs, no meat, no sex, Krishna, etc.) isn't as in-depth as it could have been, and while we catch glimpses of Jude and Johnny's dedication, there's no sense of struggle as they try to fit their lives in to this world. The music is likewise less defined, although CBGB's gets name-dropped a lot (along with other mid-80s icons like Thompkins Square Park and St. Mark's Place).

The epilogue, set during the last few nights of CBGB's existence in 2006, follows the current trend of wrapping up enough of the plot to satisfy readers, when the real ending several pages before would allow us to imagine our own endings. It's a trend I'd love to see stopped.

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12 January 2011

Other Words for Love; Lorraine Zago Rosenthal

Other Words for LoveOther Words for Love by Lorraine Zago Rosenthal
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sigh. When the book started by talking about being young in 1985 and worrying about AIDS, I thought that would play a much larger role in the plot. Not so. In fact, there was no ostensible reason for the book to be set in the mid-80s. This story is run-of-the-mill outsider girl with pretty friend finds a boyfriend and learns Life Lessons, one that many of us have read many times before.

Ari's story of first love and of trying to find her place in the world while dealing with her 'perfect' best friend Summer and her mother's constant reminder that older sister Evelyn was a disappointment, didn't grab me as being anything special or new. Why it wasn't set today, while still discussing AIDS (still a concern, as are other STDs) is a mystery.

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10 January 2011

The White Devil; Justin Evans

The White Devil: A NovelThe White Devil: A Novel by Justin Evans
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometimes I really want the "half-star" option - this deserves a 4.5. Why? Because when a book makes you want to learn more about the source material, that's a good book.

Set at Harrow in the modern day, Andrew is a fish-out-of-water American sent for a "gap year" (aka "an opportunity to clean up your record") by his father. While trying to figure out the social hierarchy and Harrovian slang, he witnesses what he thinks is a murder - except the doctors say it's natural causes and the murderer simply disappears. What follows is the story of a haunting of both Harrow and Andrew by the ghost of Byron's (he of "mad, bad and dangerous to know" fame, except in this instance it's "deadly to know") former lover. I wanted to learn more about Byron, and Harrow (why did I think it was further away from London?). The author's sense of American class distinctions and the way in which language plays into class is spot on.

Like last year's Revolution, The White Devil is one of those time-travel mysteries, with ghost sightings, an alcoholic "beak", TB and a 20+-sided essay all culminating in what some may think of as an unsatisfactory ending. The epilogue was unnecessary, which is one of the reasons for the 4.5 rating.

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Stay; Deb Caletti

StayStay by Deb Caletti
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There were so many times when reading this that I thought about the ease of falling into, and out of, love and relationships, and often that can become warped. Christian's obsession with Clara, his unwillingness to let her go and his jealousy of her other relationships all felt real, albeit distant because we see it all through Clara's eyes. Clara, unfortunately, doesn't feel as real.

She seems to be removed from what's going on, except for the times she's falling into love with Christian or Finn. When Christian's continued questioning about her activities passes from mere questioning to obsessive, she says she's upset and scared, but I didn't feel that she was. When Christian gets her new cell phone number, or shows up at the summer hide-out, I didn't sense her terror the way I did her desire to kiss him at the start of their relationship. Of course, this is all told several years later (the reference to the birthday cards is so casual, and accepting, which bothered me).

As this isn't a final copy, I can only hope that the finished product includes information for teens who are in that type of obsessive relationship.

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09 January 2011

Sparrow Road; Sheila O'Connor

Sparrow RoadSparrow Road by Sheila O'Connor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The jacket talks about the mystery of Sparrow Road, but the book is less about that than about Raine's transition from little girl to preteen. Sparrow Road was a mansion, then an orphanage, and is now a Yaddo-like artists residence (with rules like "no talking until dinner" and cabins for artistic creation). Raine isn't happy about being taken away from her Milwaukee home, less happy about the rules, and even less happy about Viktor and his mysterious relationship with Molly, Raine's mother.

Of course, rules are meant to be broken and soon Raine is talking with the artists, exploring the grounds, and finding her own artistic expression (writing). She's also puzzling out what the fate of the orphans was, and how Lillian and possibly Viktor are related to them. And then there's Gray... By the end of the summer, the orphan's story has been told (somewhat), and Raine has learned to make peace with her mother and her newly rediscovered father - it's one of those "growing up" (not quite coming-of-age) books.

My guess is that anticipated audience won't get the significance of the nearby town being named Comfort, but they will understand how a summer in the country, away from one's normal life, can help change people.

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08 January 2011

The Ogre of Oglefort; Eva Ibbotson

The Ogre of OglefortThe Ogre of Oglefort by Eva Ibbotson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the last of Eva Ibbotson's books (I'm guessing, given her death last year) and it's a wonderful one. We start in post-war London, where there's a boarding house with Unusual People: a Hag, a troll, a wizard, an enchantress, a couple of hankies and a very normal human. Oh, and Gladys, the Hag's familiar. Gladys decides she's too tired to continue on, and so the Hag must find another familiar before heading to the Meeting, at which all London's Unusual People will learn the Summer Task. Of course, she finds an orphan, Ivo.

The task, it appears, is to rid a Fun Fair of micekill an Ogre and rescue a Princess. Abandoned by all the other UPs, the Hag, troll, wizard and Ivo head off to Oglefort... where it is not all as it appears to be. I can't say more without spoiling things, but if you like Wrede's "Enchanted Forest" series this book will be a hit.

ARC provided by publisher.

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02 January 2011

Country House Garden; Gervase Jackson-Stops

The Country House Garden: A Grand TourThe Country House Garden: A Grand Tour by Gervase Jackson-Stops
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Less a read than a browse-the-pictures book, this was a quick history of British house gardens. The biggest problem is that the essays on the different features is quite rich yet needs more illustration to make the content understandable to those without great imaginative or gardening powers.

>What I mean by this is that when discussing statues or outdoor rooms, the illustrations should be next to the text not after. It would also have been helpful if types could have been groups, so that you could see a selection of Capability Brown gardens and compare them to those of Gertrude Jeckyll.

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