31 January 2012

Pink Smog; Francesca Lia Block

Pink Smog (Weetzie Bat)Pink Smog by Francesca Lia Block

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Did you love meeting Weetzie Bat? Of course you did. So now you can see how Louise becomes Weetzie...

Louise/Weetzie's 7th grade year isn't starting off well: Dad's left, Mom's drunk, she has no friends, and her "what I did on my summer" essay has just been dubbed "over-written". As the year progresses, things don't get easier but she does grow in confidence and friendship. Is Winter read? What is Annabelle's problem - and is she really practicing voodoo? Will she ever come up with a good retort when Staci is... well... Staci? And most important, will she ever see Charlie again? By the time she's ready to start 8th grade, she's a confident Weetzie with a pretty good grasp of life.

ARC provided by publisher.

Game Changers; Mike Lupica

Game Changers: Book 1Game Changers: Book 1 by Mike Lupica
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've never read one of Lupica's sports books before, but I've read his column many times. His ear for language is as evident here as it is in the newspaper, making this book about a sport I don't really follow that much more enjoyable.

Ben McBain's goal is to be the QB for the Rockville Rams Pop Warner team, but he's never chosen for that. This year there's not only Shawn O'Brien, last year's QB, to contend with, there's also Shawn's father, a former NFL QB. As the Rams' season unfolds, Ben gets to be a good friend, good teammate and good football player in what to an adult appears to be a very predictable fashion.

That's why for me this was a 3-star: the predictable nature of the plot, and the somewhat moralizing tone overall. However, if I were a football-besotted middle grade boy? Those wouldn't matter and I'd love the book.

ARC provided by publisher.

Bad Apple; T.R. Burns

Bad Apple (The Merits of Mischief #1)Bad Apple by T. R. Burns

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Poor Seamus: one incredible, coincidental, horrible throw of an apple and his entire life is changed. That apple? It hit a substitute teacher, in the head, and killed her. And that one action got him sent to Kilter Academy for Troubled Youth, where his roommate, Lemon, has gone through twelve roommates in three weeks thanks to his habit of playing with fire. Seamus is homesick, ashamed of what he did, and hopes only to make it through the first semester so he can go home. But the Kilter Academy is nothing like what he (or his parents) imagine and his natural instincts for trouble and kindness mean he's one of the most successful students at KA.

There are some great Lubar-eqsue moments and if every reader doesn't want a K-Pak, well, they're not reading clearly. This is a great book for middle grade readers... and the ending will leave them wanting to read the next book asap.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Disenchantments; Nina LaCour

The DisenchantmentsThe Disenchantments by Nina LaCour
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

That the point-of-view was that of Colby, a boy, was an interesting choice: his relationships with Bev, the others in the band (Meg and Alexa), his family and the people they meet should have felt very different than if this was told by an omniscient author or Bev. And therein lies the problem, I didn't get the sense that this *was* a male telling the story.

Bev has been Colby's best friend since elementary school; throughout their high school years at a SF arts school, they've planned a gap-year trip around Europe. After Bev forms a band with Meg and Alexa the plan becomes: post graduation tour, then gap year. But just as they head off on tour, Bev tells Colby that she's actually going to RISD in the fall. They continue their tour as Colby tries to figure out what happened to their plan and what he's going to do with his future.

As I said, this didn't strike me as a particularly male voice. Worse was that the natural anger and confusion that he should have felt given the betrayal of his plans with Bev didn't appear. Sarah Dessen fans may not notice, however.

ARC provided by publisher.

Blood on the Moon; Jennifer Knight

Blood on the MoonBlood on the Moon by Jennifer Knight
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Imagine Twilight mixed with Nightshade and you've got Blood on the Moon. Set in Colorado, we've got vampires, werewolves (who are the good guys), love and friendship - all the elements of today's paranormal romance/suspense genre explosion.

The problem for me was that I've read it all too often before: there was nothing really new here. The writing wasn't (at first) overly dramatic, which kept me reading in hope that there'd be something new or different to grab on to... but no, there wasn't. The only real surprise in the book doesn't have any relevance to the overall plot. Still, for those that simply can't get enough of these books, this isn't a bad example. And yes, there will be a sequel, if not more books.

ARC provided by publisher.

30 January 2012

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom; Christopher Healy

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your KingdomThe Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm a huge fractured fairy tale fan, and this is a wonderful addition to that genre!

In The Hero's Guide we learn the truth behind all those Prince Charming stories (they're not named "Charming", for one) and that the stories have been a little mangled thanks to the bards. Frederic, the foppish, fearful Prince in the Cinderella story, decides to go in search of Ella (she's eager for adventure, not a safe, cossetted life at home) and on the way meets Princes Gustav (Sleeping Beauty), Liam (Briar Rose) and Duncan (Snow White). Their adventures as they try to rescue Ella and the bards are filled with mystical creatures (Troll, the Bandit King, a giant named Reese and an evil Witch), fighting and humor.

The ending is just fuzzy enough to leave room for a sequel... or perhaps it was a deliberate avoidance of Happily Ever After.

ARC provided by publisher.

Welcome, Caller, This is Chloe; Shelley Coriell

Welcome, Caller, This Is ChloeWelcome, Caller, This Is Chloe by Shelley Coriell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The second half of Chloe's junior year in high school is off to a Very Bad Start: her BFF Brie hates her (for some unknown reason), leading her other BFF Mercedes to hate her, ditto all the other girls in their crowd, her Mom and Grams are locked in World War III, and her Junior Independent Study Project has just been cancelled by her new guidance counselor. She's forced to do a project at the school radio station, a place filled with "outsiders" (eg, people outside her, Brie and Merc's orbit) and who seemingly hate her. Somehow, by the end of the book, she manages to make all this better.

One of the strongest images in the book is that of family. The words "clan" and "plaid" are used over and over, hammering home the fact that Chloe is one of those for whom family is extremely important - not merely her genetic family, but the family of friends with which she surrounds herself. What's slightly unrealistic is that her family of friends are so eager to believe the things Brie is saying about her, or that she was capable of posting horrible photos to OneWorld; doesn't it occur to any of them that this is completely unlike Chloe? Yet no one seems to question any of this.

There's nothing wrong with this book... but there's nothing outstanding either. It's a great read for Sarah Dessen or Stephanie Perkins fans.

ARC provided by publisher.

29 January 2012

The Cabinet of Earths; Anne Nesbit

The Cabinet of EarthsThe Cabinet of Earths by Anne Nesbet
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a fun, interesting twist on the idea of immortality and the marriage between magic and science. Maya is the bookish, normal daughter in the Davidson family; her mother is recovering from cancer, her father is a scientist and her younger brother, James, is one of those naturally charming, gregarious kids everyone loves. The family moves to Paris for a year while her father works with the Society of Philosophical Chemistry, and she's thrown into a school where she must speak French and is an outsider - although she does make one friend, a Bulgarian named Valko, who lived in America for four years and speaks English.

Maya spends time with her cousin, Louise, a very faint, forgettable, grey woman who as a child survived a church collapse in Italy and through Louise meets another cousin, Henri-Pierre, who lives a very secluded life making opera sets and watching over a rather odd looking cabinet. There's another cousin, another Henri, who is young and dashing and yet somehow a little creepy. The three Fourcroys are descended from the original Fourcroy, a scientist, and his wife, a Lavirotte, a witch. Maya appears to take after the Lavirotte side, which will have consequences for her family...

There are touches of Lewis' Magician's Nephew, Tuck Everlasting and more modern "weird things happen to ordinary people" books, but the blend is new and fresh.

ARC provided by publisher.

If Only; Carole Geithner

If OnlyIf Only by Carole Geithner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's rare when I agree with blurbage/jacket copy like "...nothing short of extraordinary" but here, it's so deserved.

Corinna's life has been completely upended by the death of her mother in the summer between her seventh and eighth grade years. If Only is her journal of her life during 8th grade, marking the various firsts of life without her mother, as well as first in life generally. There's such deep sadness mixed with normal teen girl stuff (like her "orange crush") and her feelings of loneliness and distance from her friends are part of a pitch-perfect book. There were no moments when I felt that there was something age inappropriate or false about Corinna's voice.

While written for middle grade girls, this is a wonderful read for anyone who has lost, or knows someone who has lost, a parent when young.

ARC provided by publisher.

27 January 2012

Starters; Lissa Price

Starters (Starters, #1)Starters by Lissa Price
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Yet another dystopian series (at least there's definitely a sequel in the works, if not more books). The twist here is that the Spore Wars (enemy unknown) have led to a situation where adults between 20 and 60 have essentially died off, and those minors without grandparents (or great-grandparents, or great-aunts/uncles) are either institutionalized or living as squatters. Because this is set in Los Angeles, there's an even greater disparity between the really rich of Beverley Hills and everyone else.

Callie has been taking care of her sick younger brother, Tyler, while trying to avoid the marshals who will separate and institutionalize them. One day she hears about an opportunity to earn a lot of money as a rental body - Elders (and in this world, that can be anyone from about 90 through 200 years old) who want to re-experience a young body pay to have their brains "implanted" (via a computer chip) into a Starter (who could be 13-19 years old) body. Of course, things are never as easy as they seem, and it turns out that Callie's renter, Helena, has only joined because her granddaughter, Emma, has gone missing. Working with an amazing brain surgeon-turned-computer genius, she's had her (and Callie's) chips altered so they can communicate... and I'll stop there to avoid spoilers.

As with many of these series, editing this down to a good single volume would have made for a better read; having said that, this isn't a bad execution of a dystopian vision. There are some interesting twists, only a few of which were telegraphed from afar.

ARC provided by publisher.

Storm Makers; Jennifer E. Smith

The Storm MakersThe Storm Makers by Jennifer E. Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

At first I thought this was going to be like Savvy, but it wasn't: not everyone has the ability to affect the weather (although I'm not sure that an earthquake is a type of weather, but whatever). Usually it's a skill/talent that emerges when the person is in their 20s, but in this case, Simon is only 12 - the youngest StormMaker ever.

The McDuff family has moved to a farm in Wisconsin, where they will make a living off Dad's invention, Mom's painting and a few crops. At least, that's the plan. But there's a drought and neither the painting nor the invention are working well. One day Simon seems to short circuit the toaster... and then a car battery. It turns out that he's a StormMaker, and the focus of Rupert London, the leader of MOSS. London has a plan to use weather to destroy, rather than help; of course there is an opposition in the form of Daisy and Otis.

The questions here are of whom to believe, which side is telling the truth, and how to be loyal to your ideals. Luckily, these teens aren't preternaturally smart and you sense their confusion, making this fantasy feel more real than most. Simon's twin, Ruby, is the narrator of this story, which makes it perfect for both middle grade boys and girls.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Downside of Being Charlie; Jenny Torres Sanchez

The Downside of Being CharlieThe Downside of Being Charlie by Jenny Torres Sanchez
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What are the downsides to being Charlie? His best (only?) friend is a skinny, ADD Turk obsessed with the Rat Pack, he's 5'10" and weighs 235 (and no, he's not on the football team), and his mother disappears every so often. That's not enough? He's just spent the summer between junior and senior year at a fat camp, a very cute girl has moved in across the street, and he's sharing a locker with the class pariah.

As he goes through the first semester of his senior year he starts to come out of his shell a little, despite things going wrong - very wrong - at home. There's a caring teacher but, in true teen fashion, Charlie doesn't really turn to him for help. His food issues will resonate with any teen dealing with weight problems.

The writing brings Charlie to life is a way that makes him feel real - usually this combination of "downsides" is too much, as though the author is just throwing things in for effect. Here, that's not quite the case. Charlie's love of photography, his crush on (and near inability to speak to) Charlotte, his problems at home, etc. all made sense and don't have that kitchen sink feeling.

ARC provided by publisher.

Hearts of Darkness; Dave Thompson

Hearts of Darkness: James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Cat Stevens, and the Unlikely Rise of the Singer-SongwriterHearts of Darkness: James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Cat Stevens, and the Unlikely Rise of the Singer-Songwriter by Dave Thompson>
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This wasn't my favorite musical genre, but the music of these three definitely played a part in my high school experience. So I was interested in learning more about them and how this genre grew to be so popular... if only this book had been less like the songs they sung.

What do I mean by that? The timeline rambled, with long digressions into musical history and other, earlier genres (like skiffle). There were moments when the information was hedged (eg, James Taylor's stay in McLean when he was in high school). And the writing simply wasn't tight enough to sustain my interest, and I was able to put it down for long periods before coming back to the narrative.

ARC provided by publisher.

26 January 2012

Illuminate; Aimee Agresti

Illuminate (Gilded Wings #1)Illuminate by Aimee Agresti
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm vacillating between "it was ok" and "I liked it", but decided to be generous.

Haven Terra (yes, the name has import) was abandoned as a child - found bruised, bleeding and alone at the side of the road when she was five, with no memory of her past. Taken in and raised by Joan, she's one of the top students in her class and firmly focused on the future. One day she and her BFF, Dante (and why is it that the male BFF is always gay? seriously, it's bugging me that we can't show boys and girls just being friends without one having a same-sex orientation) learn that they've been chosen to participate in an exciting internship, assisting with the opening and running of a new luxe hotel in Chicago.

Once there she feels outclassed by the gorgeous, glamorous members of The Outfit (named after Al Capone's gang) but is made to feel like a critical member of the team by Aurelia, the owner and her mentor. Her assignment seems normal at first, but slowly she realizes that something is not quite right - and her friendship with Dante is starting to loosen. Luckily, there's Lucian to romance her, and Lance to pick up where Dante's friendship has left off. There's also a mysterious book blank book that gives her instructions and orders via writing that appears.

Sounds familiar? Yep, I thought so, too. Without going into spoilers, let's just say that this is paranormal romance/suspense and there's nothing really surprising here. At times the writing was a little florid and a good editing would have helped. Yes, there's a huge Capone component (the hotel is where the Valentine's Day Massacre took place, and there's even a minor mention of Geraldo's ill-fated opening of the hidden vault) but the history is glossed over - it's there for atmosphere and nothing more.

ARC provided by publisher.

Pilgrims Don't Wear Pink; Stephanie Kate Strohm

 Pilgrims Don't Wear PinkPilgrims Don't Wear Pink by Stephanie Kate Strohm
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Libby and her BFF Dev have found ways to escape their grey prep school for the summer: he's going to New York to do an internship at a fashion magazine (very Devil Wears Prada) while Libby will spend her summer living in 1790s Maine, acting as an Educational and Historical Interpreter for a reenactment village. Despite Libby's love of fashion and shoes, she's a passionate history buff with knowledge of cooking, needlework and, yes, fashion. Example? She can tell you when left and right shoes were invented (yes, they were invented) and create a blueberry pie that impresses a writer for Bon Appetit.

In other words, Libby's not your usual blonde bubblehead (kind of like Legally Blonde's Elle). The problem is that the other characters are no where near as fully realized, plodding along relatively predictable paths. The love triangle (of course there has to be one) is actually a little boring as a result.

ARC provided by publisher.

24 January 2012

Lost Girls; Ann Kelley

Lost GirlsLost Girls by Ann Kelley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Did you like Libba Bray's Beauty Queens? I confess, the satire was a little too heavy for me, so it only rated a 3. This book? Solid 5 for me.

Apparently this is based on a true event in Thailand in the '70s: several girls on a camping trip get stranded on a deserted island in the Thai archipelago and have to survive for quite a long time before they get rescued. Sounds like Lord of the Flies, too, doesn't it? In this version (called Koh Tabu in England, where it won the Manchester Book Award in 2011), it's group of girls whose fathers are involved with the Vietnamese War effort. This cadet group (sort of Girl Scout-esque) is minus their longstanding leader, although they're thrilled that Layla Campbell, a very glamorous younger woman, will be there with them. At the last moment, Bonnie's mother withdraws as well.

A storm makes it impossible for them to land on the island they'd planned to spend three days camping on, and the boatman somehow gets them to semi-safety on another island (which he calls Koh Tabu) that has abundant fresh water. The storm worsens and in the morning they realize that one of the girls died. Then the boatman, whom they'd assumed was going to return in three days, turns up dead.

Of course there are moments of courage as well as moments of hideously selfish behavior. The island has secrets, some of which the girls find and some that are hinted at. Layla's glamor wears off quickly for most of the girls, and her leadership abilities are completely lacking. Their survival, and rescue, seems bleak.

While much of this seems like a re-tread of Golding, it's more than merely that. The girls reactions to their situations all feel completely real, and there were moments when I knew/hoped I'd have acted in a similar fashion.

ARC provided by publisher.

A Confusion of Princes; Garth Nix

A Confusion of PrincesA Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix
My rating 5 of 5 stars

Who doesn't love Garth Nix?  There were several Middle School readers at my school anxious about missing the release of each new "day" in his Keys to the Kingdom series - they'll love this new book.

Khemri was chosen by the Emperor Hierself's minions to be a Prince, a life he believes will lead to something like the one he's seen in a number of videos: commanding a starship of some kind, ruling a world, surrounded by luxury and adventure, and many, many rebirths.  The reality of life post-Ascension isn't quite that, what with potential assassination plots, service in the Navy and trying to learn something about how to stay alive.

Turns out that he's somehow special.  Quite how special isn't revealed until later, when he's sent on a mission to a world on the Fringe.  Stripped of his "enhancements" and virtually human, he learns to survive and - most important - not be one of the cookie-cutter princes that litter the universe.  I can't go into detail here without massive spoilers, suffice it to say that the twists in Khemri's life aren't 100% predictable.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Drowned Cities; Paolo Bacigalupi

The Drowned Cities (Ship Breaker, #2)The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoyed Ship Breaker but I think that this was even better!  The world that Bacigalupi imagines, a future Waterworld-lite with the coastal cities "drowned", social structures breaking down and private armies/gangs running things is so realistically drawn that you can actually see it.  This isn't a sequel to the first book, just an expansion on the world of Ship Breaker.

Here we are what I think is the former American South - Banyan Town is a small village trying to eke out a living while avoiding the violence that accompanies the marauding gangs of Army of God, UPF and other militia.  These militia gangs are so similar to the Sudanese Lost Boys that it's a little painful to read.  One such gang of UPF men/boys are hunting a half-man/part-wolf-bear-dog-tiger-hyena (named "Tool") when they find two "war maggots", Mahalia and Mouse.  These two are squatting with Banyan Town's doctor, resented and feared by the other villagers.
One day the two children find Tool, nearly dead in a swamp but alive enough to capture them and attempt to kill the two.  Mahalia's decision to try to save him, leaving Mouse behind as a hostage, sets the rest of the book in motion.

The questions of what loyalty you owe people (or, in Tool's terms, your pack), how far people will go to survive, and whether even truly hardened boy/men warriors can find mercy and redemption are all covered; no clear answers are given.  This is definitely a Must Read for boys, book groups and lovers of dystopias.
ARC provided by publisher.

22 January 2012

Cold Cereal; Adam Rex

Cold CerealCold Cereal by Adam Rex
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book had me until the very end - the satirical look at breakfast cereals (who wouldn't want to try Burlap Crisp or KoKo Lumps?), the unicat, Harvey the semi-invisible rabbit-man were all fun and a little charming. I got the joke about Sir Reggie Dwight being John Doe. The idea that Emily and Erno had a strange (ok, bizarre) home life, that Scott saw strange things, that Goodco was, well, evil? All well and good.

The setting is New Jersey and Goodco is a multi-national cereal company that also dabbles in other things (like medicine, and physics). Scott's mother moves to Goodborough because everyone working for the company lives in the company town, and Scott has to, once again, try to fit in. He meets Emily and Erno, twins who live with their foster Dad, and starts settling down. Until he sees Harvey, and rescues Mick (a leprechaun) and life changes a lot. Emily and Erno have grown up playing weird intellectual games created by their Dad, who suddenly disappears. And that's when the fun starts...

As I said, the premise and the execution were really good, until the end. There's a really long passage near the end where the Big Villian does one of those "now I have you - I'm going to explain my evil plan and evil history and go on for so long that you figure out how to get out of your predicament" speeches, which is where the book lost me. Otherwise this would have been a solid four-star.

ARC provided by publisher.

20 January 2012

The Book of Lost Fragrences; M.J. Rose

The Book of Lost FragrancesThe Book of Lost Fragrances by M.J. Rose
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This had such promise - but too much going on for that promise to really be fulfilled.  There's the concept of Jungian archetypes, past-life regression, scent as aide memoire, Tibetan freedom, Chinese triads, former loves, Cleopatra's perfume factory, Napoleon in Egypt... and I'm sure I've left stuff out.

If the author had simply concentrated on Jac and Robbie's world, perhaps with more about the history of perfumes, it would have been interesting.  Even the addition of Malachai Samuel's search (and possible theft) of the memory objects would have been great.  But as it was, with three major strands trying to come together?  Too much.  Which is really too bad because I was trying so hard to really like this book (part of it is set in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, and most is in Paris; plus the Jungian connection).

ARC provided by publisher.

18 January 2012

The Starboard Sea; Amber Dermont

The Starboard Sea: A NovelThe Starboard Sea: A Novel by Amber Dermont
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The hype suggested this was a blend of A Separate Peace and A Secret History, but the reality is that this is a much slighter novel.

Set during the mid-80s, referencing Oliver North/Fawn Hall, Gary Hart/Monkey Business, The Preppy Handbook, Robert Chambers (aka "The Preppy Murderer") and Dorian's, this exploration of Jason's final year of high school is more about his sexual confusion, feelings for Aiden and guilt over his best friend Cal's suicide than it is about resolving any great mystery.  We see Jason pulling away from the people he's grown up with, starting to grow beyond the limitations of his social and economic class.  Bellingham is the prep school of last resort and Jason tries to make it a starting point for something new rather than relying on his father's money and position.
The problem isn't that these aren't universal themes, but that the setting and characters are so clearly part of the mid-80s St. Grottlesex experience that those not part of that world may not relate to it.
ARC provided by publisher.

The Green Man; Michael Bedard

The Green ManThe Green Man by Michael Bedard
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"The Green Man" is a bookstore, owned by Emily, a 70-year-old poet; O, her teenage niece has been sent to spend the summer with her while O's father travels to Italy to research Ezra Pound.  The store is dilapidated, with an almost Hoarder-esque interior and O sets out to clean and organize.  She realizes that there's something odd about the store: she sees people that aren't really there, hears noises and smells roses where there are none.

Interspersed with O's story is the tale of a night at a magic show for children and the tricks the magician does (like the Indian Basket and the Human Salamander).  The problem isn't the tricks but the overwhelming sense of evil that emanates from Professor Mephisto.

Over time the odder, eerier elements take over and the "rips in the fabric of time" more evident.  While the bookstore's poet-ghosts are benign, it's unclear what the motives of "Rimbaud" and several other characters are.  Ultimately, everything comes together but the climax doesn't live up to the build-up.
ARC provided by publisher.

14 January 2012

The Difference Between You and Me; Madeleine George

The Difference Between You and MeThe Difference Between You and Me by Madeleine George
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I knew each of the three types these girls (Jesse, Esther and Emily) exemplify when I was in high school and things haven't changed in the 30+ years since then.  They're very clearly defined and feel very real.  It was easy to understand Jesse's Out/Proud/Activist outlook, to roll my eyes over Emily's Perfect Girl/Closet Case actions and smile at Esther's Action Oriented Passion.  And that should have been enough - but usually girls in high school grow and change, and except for a little bit at the end, there was no real change in any of them.

Another problem for me was the ancillary characters/background, which felt a bit like tossing in the kitchen sink.  It felt like restraint when Emily didn't have an eating disorder on top of it all; I actually groaned out loud when we walked into Esther's house.  Finally, while I enjoyed the interior monologues for Emily and Esther, it was odd that we got a more distant view of Jesse.
So why three stars and not two?  Because I really did believe in the characters, despite the outside stuff.**

ARC provided by publisher.

** (note, I'm not going to get into the librarian quibble about a public library using LC and not DDC because the vast majority of readers aren't going to notice)

13 January 2012

Byron; Fiona MacCarthy

Byron: Life and LegendByron: Life and Legend by Fiona MacCarthy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whew!  It's a good biography, but honestly - 8pt font?  For 600 pages???  I deserve a medal for finishing!! 

Since reading The White Devil a year ago I'd wanted to know more about the Mad, Bad Lord and this bio is definitely "more".  The author goes over his life in great detail (mostly) and has had access to papers and letters that previous biographers haven't been able to use.  She dissects the questions of his lameness (right foot? left foot? club foot? polio?), his sexuality, his education, his poetry, his relationships with friends, his health (and odd diet) and finally his involvement with the Greek independence movement to great effect; why the dissolution of his marriage and how that affected his reputation is given a mere 40 pages while his last year is given more space is a huge question.  Still, if you want to learn more about him, this is probably a good place to start.

Hence the four stars: physically difficult to read and a major part of his life semi-glossed over.

08 January 2012

Bitterblue; Kristen Cashore

Bitterblue (The Seven Kingdoms, #3)Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's not just that these books about the Seven Kingdoms are a great read, it's that each book builds on the last without being a real sequel.  Characters from the first two books appear here but the focus is Princess, later Queen, Bitterblue of Monsea.

Bitterblue is the daughter of King Leck and Queen Ashen - Leck is a Graceling with a sociopath's interest in others, Ashen is desperate to save their daughter from his clutches.  At age eight, things come to a head and Princess Bitterblue becomes Queen.  Ten years later she's snowed under a mound of paperwork, knowing little about the kingdom she rules with the help of several of her father's former retainers.  Being an intelligent, inquisitive woman this situation doesn't suit her... and that's all I'll say for fear of serious spoilers.

While at times I felt there was a little padding in terms of description or elongation of events, the characters and world of Monsea are so wonderfully realized that the irritation was fleeting.  It was also interesting that there are events alluded to during the ten years between the Prologue and the main story that aren't fully fleshed out, allowing readers' imaginations to fill in some of the blanks.

ARC provided by publisher.

02 January 2012

Leeway Cottage; Beth Gutcheon

Leeway CottageLeeway Cottage by Beth Gutcheon
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Mix an American family with the Holocaust and you have this book: the story of the life and marriage of Annabelle Sydney Brant and Laurus Moss is also the history of America in the 20th century, including all the social changes we've seen.  At times it was unclear what direction the author was taking Sydney in, or whether she even liked her central character, which is a little unusual in a book like this.  The tale of the Dutch Resistance was interesting but tended to divert attention from the rest of the story. Given that we're also tackling (albeit in a sideways fashion) civil rights/integration and class differences, there's a lot going on.  Less might have been more.

01 January 2012

Lemprière's Dictionary, Lawrence Norfolk

Lemprière's DictionaryLemprière's Dictionary by Lawrence Norfolk
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

There was a core of interesting stuff in this book, but that core was so covered with ornate sentences, rambling asides and lack of clarity that it was difficult to follow the narrative thread.

What I *think* this is about is that 200 (or so) years earlier, a group called the Cabbala decided to defraud the Anglo-India Company.  An agreement between the Lemprieres and the de Veres siphoned part of this money off, and then the De Veres reneged, starting a 200-year search/revenge plot.  I think.  When it took a good 30 pages before I even knew which time period we were in, you know it's going to be tough going.

So here I am, starting 2012 with a one-star DNF.