31 August 2011

Darkness Falls; Cate Tiernan

Darkness Falls (Immortal Beloved, #2)Darkness Falls by Cate Tiernan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn't read the first book, but now it's on my "find and read soon" list! Yes, this is yet another paranormal trilogy, but the humor sets it apart from most of the others that I've read thus far.

Nas (one of the many names by which Nastasya has been known over the course of her 400+ years) is "recovering" at River's Edge, a former Quaker Meetinghouse now owned by River, a 1600-year-old Immortal. There's a lot of new age-y ritual an discussion about dark vs. light magic, but Nas is also expected to hold a job (shelving at the local drugstore). Not having the background the first book would have given me, the reasons why Nas ended up at River's Edge are given merely as "wanting a break" and "learning to get rid of the darkness inside"; there's also not a lot of discussion about what makes an Immortal or what their special powers of magyick, etc. are. The fact that readers can get into the book without having that background is the mark of a good trilogy (I know that I'm somewhat alone in that assessment).

ARC provided by publisher.

Shut Out; Kody Keplinger

Shut OutShut Out by Kody Keplinger

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This isn't quite in the Sarah Dessen school of realistic YA fiction, but it comes close. The characters are believable, even if the extent of the rivalry between two school teams is a little much.

I thought that Lissa's "plot" to deny the football and soccer boys sex raised some really great issues about what sex in a relationship can mean - what defines a slut? is it weird to not like sex or to still be a virgin as a high school senior? how do you define what's comfortable or not? how do you know whether a relationship is working? The differences between Cash and Randy seemed a little over-exaggerated, but then, teenage boys can be that way. This could make a great mother-daughter read, but the age group that needs that discussion might find the language a little much.

ARC provided by publisher.

Hello Goodbye; Emily Chenoweth

Hello GoodbyeHello Goodbye by Emily Chenoweth
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Let me start by saying that despite what the blurbage said, this was not "luminous" (I strongly suspect that people don't quite understand what the word means).

Helen has a brain tumor, which her husband knows is inoperable and untreatable, and she has fewer than nine months to live. Eliott's response is to invite all their close friends to a 20th anniversary vacation at the Presidential Hotel in New Hampshire, at which he will tell everyone about Helen's condition. Even Abby, their daughter, doesn't know.

As the vacation unfolds, there are no huge revelations. The friends are merely the same as they've always been, Abby doesn't suddenly become the dutiful daughter, and Helen doesn't die at the end. This could be seen as a "slice of life" novel, with overtones of death. It was relatively well-written, although the characters fell a little flat for me.

Copy provided by publisher.

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt; Caroline Preston

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt: A Novel in PicturesThe Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt: A Novel in Pictures by Caroline Preston


I read this but really can't give it a rating - because I got an ARC with grey-tone illustrations, the full experience of reading this was missing. Having said that, the idea is very clever and if the color version matches my expectations, this would be a 5-star review.

ARC provided by publisher.

30 August 2011

All the Things I've Done; Gabrielle Zevin

All These Things I've DoneAll These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I like how Zevin creates a world but doesn't belabor it - in this case, we're in the year 2083, a time when all foods aren't readily available (like oranges), paper and cloth are rationed, you pay postage on e-mail, and there are vouchers for ice cream. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is now a nightclub, the Great Lawn in Central Park isn't grass, and the Statue of Liberty is reduced to what appears to be the very bottom of her dress and her feet. Yet this isn't a dystopia or a post-apocolyptic society! The weirdest things to me are that speakeasys serve coffee, and chocolate is a black market item.

We meet the three Balanchine siblings: Leo, who has a mental impairment thanks to a car accident when he was nine, Anya, who essentially functions as the head of the family, and Natty, a relatively normal 12-year-old. They're in the care of their grandmother, but Nana's dying; their mother was shot (causing the accident that Leo was in) as was their father (in his office, while Anya and Natty played beneath his desk). Leo Sr. was the head of a chocolate family, part of the Russian mafiyoso, and all three children are aware that they are somehow tainted by being part of the family. Despite that, Anya tries to see that they live normal lives.

Enter Win, who will become Anya's boyfriend - and because of her family, they are star-crossed lovers. There's also "bastard cousin" Jacks (and the term "bastard" is used in its correct sense) who, like any bad apple, is attempting to upset the cart. The yakuza, in the form of another of the Big Five chocolate Families, plays a role. All this against the backdrop of Anya's junior year in high school, at Holy Trinity (the best private school in the city).

At the end of the book, there are several loose ends: what will happen to Anya and Will? what about Leo? can the larger Balanchine Family survive, or will other Families take over? That there are loose ends, with no promise of a sequel (or sequels) is great! I wish more books ended this way.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman; Meg Wolitzer

The Fingertips of Duncan DorfmanThe Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman by Meg Wolitzer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Years ago a friend donated a copy of a book to the library in which I worked. This book was supposed to boost SAT scores by giving students access to the "15-cent word" vocabulary they'd need in context, so all over the pages were words underlined to indicate HERE IS AN SAT WORD. Oddly enough, no one every borrowed this book, even those avidly preparing for the exams. Why do I mention this? Because this book feels the same to me: let's get kids into Scrabble, fitting a story in around lists of two-letter words (I'm not kidding, there are six pages of word lists in the first section of the book) and anagrams. Word nerds may pick it up, but finding a bigger audience may not work.

I also thought that the adults were rather caricaturish, and the kids (who were definite stereotypes) would have been far more interesting without the overlay of Scrabble. As for the plot, the non-Scrabble-related conflicts are resolved after the Big Tournament in a rather perfunctory manner. That's too bad, because had this not been characters and plot slotted in to promote the author's plot device, I could have really enjoyed getting to know Duncan, Nate, Maxie, Lucy and April.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Stranger You Seek; Amanda Kyle Williams

The Stranger You SeekThe Stranger You Seek by Amanda Kyle Williams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

FBI profilers seem to be the current rage, and with "Criminal Minds" doing so well in the ratings it didn't surprise me that I'd be reading mysteries starring one. Keye Street isn't actually a profiler, but she was one before her alcoholism got her kicked out of the BAU and into rehab. Now she's a private investigator in Atlanta, living in a loft-like apartment with White Trash (her formerly feral cat) and making a living serving subpoenas, tracking down bail jumpers and doing general detective/investigative work for a number of law firms.

The central case revolves around a serial killer, an unsub (yes, that term is actually used) who seems to have no preferred type of victim: one is a widowed Chinese mother, another is a older white male, while still another is a black woman in the suburbs. There are at least five victims over sixteen years, and the killer seems to be accelerating. After Lei Koto's murder, a letter is sent to the investigating detective, Lt. Aaron Rauser, taunting him; the letter is also sent to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the "Wishbone" killer goes public. Rauser, who has a BFF-like relationship with Keye, hires her for her profiling expertise.

As Keye and Rauser delve into the case, we meet a spatter expert (think Dexter, but without the murderous hobby), Keye's former FBI boss, Keye's family and ex-husband, her employee/computer hacker genius Reid, and at least one potential suspect. The action doesn't stay with just this one case, however, and in addition to other work in and around Atlanta, Keye also flies to Denver to meet with an embezzeling accountant and goes to northern Georgia on a lost cow case (don't ask). We do return to the Wishbone again and again, and I suspect the diversions are to keep the level of suspense and gore at a reasonable level.

Ultimately, of course, Keye figures out who the Wishbone killer is, although the ending isn't as tidy as some mystery writers would make it. Because this is a series, that's ok. I do wish that we didn't keep harping on her alcoholism, but these days not only are all detectives/investigators flawed, they're really flawed.

ARC provided by publisher.

Lola and the Boy Next Door; Stephanie Perkins

Lola and the Boy Next DoorLola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Perkins is definitely trying for the "next Sarah Dessen" slot, first with Anna and the French Kiss and now with Lola and the Boy Next Door. This time we're in San Francisco, and Lola is one of those "quirky" kids, constantly experimenting with her costume/look (think lots of wigs, interesting clothing combinations, unusual accent choices). She's dating a guitarist, Max, who is five years older (22 to her 17) and works reading meters for the City when he's not doing the music thing. Natually, this irritates her parents, a gay couple named Norman and Andy, so there are lots of fights about curfews and checking in, etc.. She's got one best friend, Lindsey, and a work friend (Anna, she of the french kiss, now back from Paris with Etienne and both are attending Berkeley) and life seems to be moving along well. Until, that is, the Boy Next Door, Cricket Bell, returns - he'd hurt her badly a few years before, and if she never sees him again blah blah blah.

The problem with the love triangle here is that it's blatently obvious which one is better for Lola. There's no real suspense here, just a "hurry up and get it over with" sense. Virtually every conflict Lola has is, in some way, resolved by the end of the book, which doesn't feel realistic (although the target audience probably won't feel that way). I'm also not sure that the inclusion of Anna and Etienne makes sense here. They're supposed to symbolize real love, knowing that the other is The One and it's For Life, which is great but again, at 17? not particularly realistic (I say that despite having two marriages in my family where the couples met in middle school, but that's very much not the norm in the real world). It also lead me to wonder if in the next book we'd get Anna, Etienne, Lola and Cricket as role models, and so on. Could make for very crowded books in the future.

ARC provided by publisher.

Bunheads; Sophie Flack

BunheadsBunheads by Sophie Flack
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(full disclosure: I was the author's librarian waaay back when!)

This is a great look at how a girl's dream (ok, passion and obsession) with becoming a ballerina can change as she becomes a woman. With the Metropolitian Ballet and its Academy standing in for New York City Ballet and its School of American Ballet, we also get a great behind-the-scenes look at the lives of those girls, the ones that really pursued the dream to become the ballerina many of us wanted to be when we were younger but dropped in favor of astronaut, model, cook, etc..

Hannah left home in Massachusetts at 14 to live in the MBA's dorm, attending 'regular' school (the School of the Arts stands in for Professional Children's School) for academics but living and breathing the MBA's classes in all things ballet. Now, as a 19-year-old member of the corps, Hannah is a dancer but not yet a ballerina (there is a difference!) whose life is circumscribed by company class, rehearsals, performances, yoga, Pilates and laundry. One day, after her performance is over, she goes downtown to her cousin's bar/restaurant and meets Jacob, a cute NYU student who is also the evening's "live music". They chat, exchange phone numbers, and Hannah's life starts to change: she now actually know somone who is a so-called pedestrian, a non-dancer.

Over the course of the next year, we get a real look at what these dancers lives are like: the competition for parts, the jockying for notice by the choreographers and teachers, the grueling days of dancing, and of course the obsession with weight and look and line. Warning - if you love the Nutcracker, this might not be the best book to read! Hannah also meets a balletomane, Matt, who is able to wine and dine her, and who - unlike Jacob - understands her schedule.

The choices Hannah makes about her dreams, her goals and her future reminded me of many of the students I knew, and this insider view made me feel that much more for them.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Shattering; Karen Healey

The ShatteringThe Shattering by Karen Healey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an author to watch out for - her first book, Guardians of the Dead, a retelling of what I think were Maori myths (certainly no myths/stories that I'd grown up with) was a great read, and this one shows she's getting better at her craft.

Again the setting is New Zealand, so while there is some familiarity there's just enough difference from other white/native-or-minority books (I'm thinking of all the Hispanic characters I've met in books set in the American SouthWest/West). She doesn't belabor the relationships between Pacific Islanders, Maori and whites in this book, as the characters mingle well and the main tension is between Summertown residents and tourists.

Keri (and it's probably only me that will link that name to that of Keriwen, the "heroine" of The Bone People, one of my favorite novels, also set in New Zealand) is still in shock from her older brother's suicide when her former bff Janna suggests that perhaps it wasn't suicide but murder. Sceptical but hopeful, Keri agrees to meet with her and Sione to talk about this possibility (apparently Janna's older brother Schulyer's suicide started a pattern of one male per year killing himself, the link being age and that they were in Summertown for New Year's Eve). The three start to investigate and discover something's Not Quite Right with the town, and some of the townspeople. This is Nancy Drew mixed with Witches of Eastwick (or worse) time, but not in a way that will make the reader roll their eyes. While some of the reveals were obvious, there were enough surprises to bump this up to a five.

It's great that the author has provided information about suicide hotlines and a glossary of Maori and Samoan terms, but I would also have liked links to some of the mythology and rituals referenced here. Perhaps on her website?

ARC provided by publisher.

The Space Between; Brenna Yovanoff

The Space BetweenThe Space Between by Brenna Yovanoff

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ms. Yovanoff is again exploring the "other world" theme, but in a completely different way than she did in The Replacement. Here we have recognizable angels and demons (Lilith, Lucifer, Beelzebub and others make an appearance, and Adam has a cameo), and a wonderful description of Hell (known as Pandemonium, the city Daphne calls home). Daphne is the daughter of Lilith and Lucifer and spends most of her time watching tv, chatting with Beelzebub and fighting her inner nature. She also collects momentoes given to her by her half-brother Obie (the son of Adam and Lilith), her favorite half-sibling. One "day" she sees a human, covered in pale pink water, arrive and for some reason she is drawn to him - Obie wants to return him to Earth, but can only do so after Beezlebub gives his approval. Obie then helps Truman (I'm not sure if the name is an accident or supposed to be Highly Significant) through his initial recovery, but it's clear that Truman still has a death wish. Obie, on the other hand, has fallen in love with a human and has decided to leave his job, family and Hell for her.

Daphne remembers Truman and is distraught at Obie's leaving, so when Lilith tells her that Obie has disappeared, she decides to find Truman and get his help rescuing her brother. The rest of the story is told from the alternating viewpoints of Truman and Daphne as they search for Obie, encounter other angels and demons, and attempt to solve the puzzles of their true nature and where they belong. It was interesting to see that in some respects, the "good guys" (Azrael and Dark Dreadful) and the "bad guys" (Lucifer, Moloch) are pretty much the same.

The weakest part of all this is the ending, where it's a little unclear what's happened and where Truman and Daphne are and whether they're together or apart. This is one of those books where the pacing suddenly shifts, or perhaps the ending gets edited a little too much. Hence the four rating (could go with 4.5, but I don't have that option here).

ARC provided by publisher.

Twenty-Five Books that Shaped America; Thomas C. Foster

Twenty-five Books That Shaped America: How White Whales, Green Lights, and Restless Spirits Forged Our National IdentityTwenty-five Books That Shaped America: How White Whales, Green Lights, and Restless Spirits Forged Our National Identity by Thomas C. Foster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is one of those perfect "put down-able" books, like a collection of short stories is. You read a chapter, do something else, read another chapter, etc.. I love those, as I can read a chapter when I don't have time to get involved with another book.

Anyway, this is a great look at several books that have become curriculum standards (or were - Hemingway isn't as taught as he used to be at the high school level) and whether or not you've read them, you will want to read (or re-read) them after. I found myself saying "I can't believe I missed that book in school" or "Maybe I need to re-visit that one" often. And Foster's humor about the books makes even the driest (Moby-Dick, I'm looking at you) seem accessible.

A great gift book, for yourself or others.

ARC provided by publisher.

26 August 2011

Following Atticus; Tom Ryan

Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary FriendshipFollowing Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was not one I thought would be as good as it was: I'm not a dog person, and my enjoyment of books like The Cat Who Went to Paris and Marley and Me was minimal. Having been dragged on many hikes when I was younger, my preference is for curling up with a good book and reading. Despite those qualms, there were many moments reading this when I turned to my cats and just had to hug them.

Those of us with pets understand the unconditional love they give and Atticus' love for Tom goes above that: the two connected on some incredibly deep level. Tom's decision to hike the 4,000'+ White Mountain peaks (both during the summer and winter) with his dog seems to be something short of madness, but clearly this is one mountain-loving dog. It's also heart-warming to see how Atticus touched the lives of the people in Tom's life and what an integral part of Newberyport's community he became. For those that enjoy hiking, Tom's descriptions of the various peaks - and climbs - will whet your appetite for the next climbing season.

What dropped this from a 4 to a 3 (or 3.5, I'm vacillating) is that Tom falls into the same trap I've seen that most reporters-turned-book authors get snarled in: too much repetition of information. "Characters" are introduced and reintroduced, and in some cases whole paragraphs are repeated in more than one chapter. That might not bother some, but it irritated me.

This would be the perfect gift for any hiking or dog lover in your lives.

ARC provided by publisher.

25 August 2011

The Arrogant Years; Lucette Lagnado

The Arrogant Years: One Girl's Search for Her Lost Youth, from Cairo to BrooklynThe Arrogant Years: One Girl's Search for Her Lost Youth, from Cairo to Brooklyn by Lucette Lagnado

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I confess, I'm not sure how the title fits in, except possibly as an indicator of the way the family lived in Cairo versus their lives in America. It doesn't really matter, ultimately, and I enjoyed meeting Lucette's family and learning about her life.

The community I was raised in was an Askenazic survivor community, so reading about the lives of Levantine Jews was a new experience. To be honest, I wish there had been more about those differences (perhaps that's another book?). Lagnado is half-Egyptian and half-Syrian, with different traditions from the Eastern European Jews one hears about as making up the Jewish population of Brooklyn. Until the Egyptian Revolution in the 1960s, the Jews lived in harmony with the Christians and Muslims, even exerting influence on the King. After the revolution, many fled and today one can't really imagine that level of coexistence.

Lucette's stuggles fitting in are numerous. First there's her "fight" for equal rights within her synagogue. At school, she's used to a different educational system and often bored, while in college she's unused to "high prep" culture or the Eastern European Jewish students she meets. The economic poverty the family experienced also distances her from her peers. And then there's the cancer...

Not a memoir in the ordinary sense, The Arrogant Years is more the history of the author's mother. This is a good read, particularly for those who are less aware of the lives of the Cairene Jews and their immigrant experience.

ARC provided by publisher.

20 August 2011

Tempest; Julie Cross

TempestTempest by Julie Cross
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This twist on the time-travel genre posits that there is a genetic mutation that allows people to travel through time. Because this is the start to a trilogy, some of the information isn't explained quite as fully as it could have been. Also because this is the start of a trilogy, the writing and plot aren't as tight as I would have liked.

Jackson's experiences alone would have made for an interesting book, ditto his "experiments" with Alan. Throwing in a secret CIA department and the EOT people made things more complicated. It's interesting that while Jackson half-jumps, he can't affect the timeline, but then he starts full-jumping. I have a sneaking suspicion how he'll change things in future books, and I hope I'm wrong.

ARC provided by publisher.

A Walk Across the Sun; Corban Addison

A Walk Across the SunA Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Luckily, this is less harrowing a read than McCormick's Sold, but it's still a disturbing read. The three stories intertwine in a way that leaves the reader with hope - hope tinged with sadness.

The first story is actually two-in-one: Ahalya and Sita, sisters in a comfortably well-off family near Chennai (Madras to us oldies), being educated at a convent school, whose lives are completely destroyed by the tsunami that hit India's coast following the Indonesian earthquake in 2004. Their home destroyed, their parents and servant dead, they try to get to their school and safety, only to be kidnapped and sold into Mumbai's brothels. After several months, they are split up, with Ahalya staying in the brothel and Sita being sold to a drug courier and on into virtual slavery and then into the European/American brothel/pornography system. The second (or third) story is that of Thomas, a DC lawyer whose marriage has fallen apart under the twin pressures of his daughter's SIDS death and his work on a major lawsuit. After his wife returns to her native India, he is lost until one of the lead partners tells him to take either a year's sabbatical or a long vacation (he's the scapegoat for the case being lost). He takes the sabbatical to work in India, at an NGO trying to shut down the underage brothels.

It is there that the three stories intersect. Thomas' involvement with the two girls, and trying to rescue them, is at first incidental but becomes a real turning point in his decisions about his future. It also leads him back to Priya, his wife. While that radical a change might seem unlikely, I think it's not too farfetched - often people choose careers for the wrong reasons, but if they get the opportunity to change to something they love, it can also change the way in which they relate to others. While horrific things happen to (and around) Ahalya and Sita, they seem remarkably untouched by them, and that felt a little unrealistic to me.

ARC provided by publisher.

18 August 2011

Brass Monkeys; Terry Caszatt

Brass Monkeys (Diary of Adara Daniels)Brass Monkeys by Terry Caszatt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Here's the big caveat: as an adult, I wasn't that impressed but if I were a middle school-age boy, this would be one of my favorite new reads. Why? Eugene's life is pretty awful (he gets expelled for pushing his former school principal off a stage... except he really didn't and if people would just listen to the truth they'd know he didn't do it) and his mother takes them to the wilds of Minnesota, just as a blizzard hits. When school starts, it's even worse than he thinks, and there's something definitely off about the teachers (the whole "monkeymind" thing, for example).

Soon he's reluctantly playing hero in an underworld Worst School Ever land, complete with eraser guns and mournful music class. His mission is to take a book ("Brass Monkeys") to the mysterious McGinty, who might be in the Blue Grotto... or perhaps he's moved on. The place names and language are inventive, and it's all right up a boy's alley!

For me, however, the ending got a bit confusing and there was a sense that too much had been tossed into the blender. However, as I'm not the target audience, I'm sure that's ok.

Copy provided by publisher.

17 August 2011

The Evolution of Ethan Poe; Robin Reardon

Evolution of Ethan Poe, TheEvolution of Ethan Poe, The by Robin Reardon
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I'll be honest, I wasn't impressed. The author is not particularly subtle about his agenda; here's what a reader gets out of this book: 1. Anyone believing in Christianity (eg, anyone who believes the Bible and lives a Christ-centered life) is a. ignorant b. afraid c. close-minded and d. likely to resort to violence instead of reason; 2. Ditto anyone believing in Intelligent Design; 3. Most believers are that way because they have a real problem (mental illness, being abused by their step-father) that could be solved without religion - that's their "duck blind"; 4. Liberals/libertarians are sensible people who believe in a vague idea of God, accept evolution without question and only use violence to defend themselves; 5. All the cool people believe in power animals and have guided, grounding experiences - or something to that effect. And they wear ear-cuffs.

IF he'd been subtler, talking reasonably about the ID/evolution debate and religion and homosexuality, I'd have liked it more. As it is, I'm not sure many of my gay students would read this (I don't see them relating to the issues raised by being in a small, conservative town) and I think people that could get something from this aren't going to find the book in their local library or bookstore.

Oh, and only those not from New England order sprinkles on their ice cream. The rest of us order jimmies.

Copy provided by publisher.

16 August 2011

Dear Bully; Megan Kelley Hall

Dear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their StoriesDear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories by Megan Kelley Hall
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have a feeling that educators will be encouraged to make this a Must Read for teachers and students - while I think it's a good idea, it won't stop bullying. The way these authors have (after the fact) confronted their bullies, or dealt with the pain and the situation while they were being bullied will resonate with those who are in the same position; those that are doing the bullying probably won't see themselves in these portraits (although they may see themselves as being bullied, which is often the case). It might be better to choose a few to use as writing prompts for everyone to talk about what their pain is, but make it anonymous so as to protect everyone.

For adults, I think many of us will recognize either ourselves or people we knew in these portraits. A little reflection is never a bad thing.

ARC provided by publisher.

12 August 2011

The Jewel and the Key; Louise Spiegler

The Jewel and the KeyThe Jewel and the Key by Louise Spiegler
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was disappointed that the initial tension (would Addie get a role in the upcoming high school production, or would the "drama divas" win again?) was completely ignored by the time we were 1/4 in to the book. The time travel to WWI-era Seattle and the parallels between the people's feelings about the war then and the contemporary wars was interesting, particularly as many history classes don't cover that era and the IWW/Wobblies in as much depth as they used to. However, Addie's traveling between the eras, her attempts to save the Jewel, and her relationships with people in both times were retreads of other time-travel adventures I've read.

ARC provided by publisher.

10 August 2011

The Eleventh Plague; Jeff Hirsch

The Eleventh PlagueThe Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch

What a pleasure to read a post-apocalyptic book that doesn't have the type of life-controlling government that I've read in recent books. This version of the future is more Ship Breaker than Delirious and will be perfect for middle grade boys.

We open in the near future, after the Chinese have used germ warfare to unleash P11 (the eleventh plague) on the United States. Hundreds of thousands have died, political structures have broken down and those physical structures that remain are in complete disrepair. Stephen, his father and his grandfather make their living traveling from North to South and back again, scavenging/salvaging scraps to sell for food, clothes, bullets, etc.. The day after the grandfather dies, they find a broken plane - stripped, but shelter during a storm. Slavers also take refuge in the wreck, and Dad decides to free the slaves.

In their escape from the slavers, Dad is badly injured when he falls down a ravine into a river; Stephen tries to save him by pulling him into a cave. While there, a group from a nearby settlement finds them and takes them in. There, Stephen finds a stable community with a doctor, baseball and school. Will he be able to stay? Is this the future, or is it a last gasp at the past?

The issues of how we respond to pandemics, what society is and how people will survive will provoke thought; the focus on a male protagonist will appeal to boys.

ARC provided by publisher.

09 August 2011

Faces in the Pool; Jonathan Gash

Faces in the PoolFaces in the Pool by Jonathan Gash
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I haven't read a Lovejoy mystery in quite some time, and I think the series has gone downhill since my last read. There was less of the antiques talk, and more of Lovejoy running around, scared, clueless and baffled by the trouble he'd gotten into. I'm not sure the addition of Mortimer helped, and the plot just seemed wobbly (not to mention overcrowded with potential villains). Maybe I'll just go back and re-read the earlier books rather than keep up with the newer ones.

08 August 2011

Bloodmoney; David Ignatius

Bloodmoney: A Novel of EspionageBloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage by David Ignatius
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's good to know that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as our War on Terror, have allowed the spy thriller genre to flourish. While this is not up to the level of John Le Carre's works, Bloodmoney is a decent addition, with exotic locales, double (and triple) crossings, naive dupes and "implacable" foes. While this does not appear to be part of a series, I wouldn't mind reading more about Cyril and Sophie.

ARC provided by publisher.

07 August 2011

The Elephant in the Garden; Michael Morpurgo

Elephant in the GardenElephant in the Garden by Michael Morpurgo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The latest book from the author of War Horse is also set during wartime, this time we're in Germany during World War II (for the most part; the main story is told as a "story within a story" by Lizzie, who now is 82 and lives in a senior citizens home). The tale of how Lizzie's family cared for Marlene, the elephant from the Dresden zoo, and escaped from Dresden, walking across Germany to find the American troops and safety, is a little dry, but there are some moments where your heartstrings will be tugged.

This isn't as moving as War Horse, but children will find the story fascinating (and like the earlier book, it is sort-of based on real life).

ARC provided by publisher.

06 August 2011

Just Your Average Princess; Kristina Springer

Just Your Average PrincessJust Your Average Princess by Kristina Springer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Set in Average IL, this story will appeal to middle grade girls looking for realistic fiction with a tinge of romance. Jamie's family owns a pumpkin patch - not just a patch, but a Patch. During the fall they turn their farm into a destination, with a haunted house, face painting, pumpkin and squash picking, crafts and other fun stuff. She's grown up with the goal of being Miss Pumpkin Patch, and this is going to be her year.

Then her glamorous cousin Milan arrives, and Jamie's plans go awry. Milan, with her $2,000 shoes and $90 t-shirts, doesn't want to be there, and doesn't like Jamie. The tensions between the two cousins rise throughout the books but, of course, by the end all is well and the two become friends (of a sort).

ARC provided by publisher.

05 August 2011

Daughter of Smoke and Bone; Laini Taylor

Daughter of Smoke and BoneDaughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Karou is human - as far as she knows - but has been raised by chimera and spends much of her time running errands from Brimstone, who raised her (with some help from Issa and two other chimera). She's learned to deflect questions about her life and family, and is an amazing linguist (Brimstone "gifts" her with a new language every birthday) and artist. The errands she runs are to collect teeth of all varieties from various hunters, but she has no idea what Brimstone does with them after she hands them over, despite asking many questions.

On one errand she meets Akiva, a seraphim who is going around the world marking the doors that lead from our world to Brimstone's. They fight and Karou escapes, barely. While recovering, she sneaks through the "forbidden" inner door into Brimstone's world (she's lived in his workshop and in our world, and been kept from his world) and learns a little more about the chimera - but she's caught and Brimstone casts her out into our world just ask Akiva's mission reaches completion. Now she's truly alone, unable to get back to the creatures that raised her.

The first parts of the book were engaging, but when the Madrigal story started, my interest waned a little. In part that was because it became clear that we were leading up to three of my least favorite words: to be continued.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Summer Garden; Paullina Simons

The Summer Garden (Tatiana and Alexander, #3)The Summer Garden by Paullina Simons
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I'd really hoped that this would engage me, but it ended up a DNF. Why? The main characters, Tatiana and Alexander, didn't engage me. The author describes them as silent or withdrawn, and while there are flashes of inner life I never felt that there was anyone there to explore. The flashbacks to their lives during the war will, I guess, appeal to those who have read the first two books, but I didn't really care.

Copy provided by publisher.

03 August 2011

Sanctus; Simon Toyne

SanctusSanctus by Simon Toyne
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is perfect for anyone who loved Da Vinci Code, Labyrinth or any other in the "there's a deep, dark secret that the Church doesn't want us to know about"/Templars genre.

Ruin is a city in Turkey, home to the Citadel, an ancient mountain/religious stronghold. Mystery surrounds it, as the inhabitants are essentially sealed inside with no contact with the rest of the world. One rule seems to be that the monks who join have no outside "distractions" in the way of family, but somehow one has slipped through - Brother Samuel.

Brother Samuel has reached the highest pinnacle of the order, and learned the secret of the Sacrament. It's unclear what happens next, but he ends up in a dungeon, from which he escapes by climbing up to the top of the Citadel. The next morning, he stands on top of the mountain, holding himself in the sign of the Tau, and then launching himself off the top 1000 feet to the ground, just outside the Citadel's sphere of influence.

After that the mystery of what caused him to so publicly commit suicide, what the scarring on his body means, what the Sacrament is, and why the Citadel is so anxious to protect it takes off. Unlike most of the books in this genre, the mystery isn't held by the Church nor would it necessarily destroy it - it predates all of that by millennia. Apparently this is going to be a trilogy, but this book seems pretty complete to me. And, as with all of this type of book, the prose and the leaps of faith (no pun intended) are a little overwhelming.

ARC provided by publisher.

Underdogs; Markus Zusak

Underdogs (The Underdog; Fighting Ruben Wolfe; Getting the Girl)Underdogs by Markus Zusak
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

These three stories tell the story of Cameron Wolfe, youngest child in the Wolfe family. His father is a plumber, Mrs. Wolfe works cleaning at a hospital, oldest brother Steve plays football (Aussie rules), sister Sarah has several serious boyfriends and then there's Ruben, Cam's best (and only) friend.

Throughout the stories we see Cam as the underdog: friendless except for his brother Cam (and somewhat despised by his older brother Steve), unnoticed by girls, scared to fight, and not particularly good at anything. Yet we also see him slowly grow, getting the girl and gaining his family's respect.

This will hold a lot of appeal for the 13+ boys searching for a book that speaks to the family loser (whether or not they are one themselves).

ARC provided by publisher.