28 March 2012

Into the Darkest Corner; Elizabeth Haynes

Into the Darkest CornerInto the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Abusive relationships never start out that way - Cathy knows all about it.  At first she and Lee were attracted to each other and she was so excited about her new beau.  And his phone calls when she was at work or his entering her house to move things around were a little weird, but still nice.  It isn't until she realizes he's controlling her wardrobe, checking on her car's mileage to make sure she's at the meeting she says she's at, and separating her from her friends that she starts to rebel; despite changing her locks and telling him to leave he still manages to get into her apartment and her friends take his side.  Eventually he nearly kills her.

Four years later she's healthy, except for the OCD and PTSD.  She's moved to London to escape him and thus far is managing - barely - the rebuild her life.  Her upstairs neighbor Stuart starts to take an interest and helps her make appointments for psychological help, but then she learns that Lee has been released from prison.  And she's sure someone's been following her and entering her apartment...

This is a wonderfully creepy book despite being slightly obvious.  The ease with which an otherwise intelligent, confident woman gets sucked into this sort of relationship gives one pause; equally thought-provoking is the lack of strong legal assistance for these women.

ARC provided by publisher.

27 March 2012

The Innocents; Francesca Segal

The InnocentsThe Innocents by Francesca Segal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Based on Wharton's Age of Innocence but set in the equally claustrophobic community of London's NW11, home to many Jews, this is not the book for people looking for a traditional love triangle or lots of plot-driven action.

Ziva is a Holocaust survivor who left Mandate Palenstine for London; like many other survivors, she raised her two children, Jaffa and Boaz there. This second generation has created an extremely close and interrelated community: they attend the same temple, go to the same schools, do business together, and raise their children together. Everyone that Adam and Rachel know are part of this community, and all events are predictable because everyone conforms to the community's goals (Adam describing what he knows his wedding will be like is a beautiful example).

Rachel, raised by Jaffa and Lawrence in an extremely cossetted single-child home, is the real "innocent" who never thinks (or wants to think) outside her familiar box. Adam, on the other hand, is drawn to the community in part because his father died when Adam was 8 - he finds comfort in his near adoption by Rachel's parents, in particular Lawrence's guidance. Michelle, Adam's mother, is remote emotionally but still part of this close-knit group. After dating for ten years(!!), Rachel and Adam finally get engaged and start to plan the marriage.

The love triangle comes in the figure of Rachel's somewhat wild-child younger cousin Ellie, daughter of Boaz (whose wife was killed in a terrorist attack during a vacation in Israel). Ellie shows up to Kol Nidre (the most somber and, in some ways, important of the Jewish holy day services) nearly naked... she smokes pot and coconut joints... and she clearly doesn't fit into the old-fashioned world of NW11. Adam's attraction to her develops slowly, and there are a lot of frustrated half-attempts to connect with her before the end.

It's this passivity of action, and the fact that so much of the real action is muted - almost off stage - that make this a different read that harkens back to Wharton. The author also assumes that readers will understand enough Hebrew/Yiddish to translate some of the dialogue and will have enough familiarity with the Jewish experience to understand the various holidays and events mentioned. 

ARC provided by publisher.

26 March 2012

The Red House; Mark Haddon

The Red House: A NovelThe Red House: A Novel by Mark Haddon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is very different than either Curious Incident... or A Spot of Bother both stylistically and in terms of plot. Instead of one narrative thread, we get to see the action from the differing viewpoints of all seven characters (Richard, his second wife Louise and her daughter Melissa, his sister Angela and Angela's husband Dominic and her children Alex, Daisy and Benjy). At times that can make it difficult to determine whose voice and thoughts we're hearing.

In simple terms, this is the story of an estranged brother and sister taking a week's vacation in a self-catering cottage with their families. The goal is to somehow bridge the gap between the siblings now that their mother has died; it's unclear at the end if that goal has been met. Of course there are undercurrents of other problems - Angela mourning the death of her stillborn Karen (the week includes what would have been Karen's 18th birthday), Dominic's recovery from a breakdown, Daisy's involvement with a Christian church, etc. - all of which get touched upon but not necessarily wrapped up in one tidy package by the end of the book. That's not a bad thing, in that life is rarely tidily wrapped up for us.

In addition to the confusion over who is speaking/acting when, the style is sometimes one of choppy sentence fragments or what feel like bullet point lists. What that might have been intended to add to the sense that we're intruding on a family's life, it just irritated me when it appeared to have no relevance to the action or characters.

ARC provided by publisher.

24 March 2012

The Last Princess; Galaxy Craze

The Last PrincessThe Last Princess by Galaxy Craze
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The year is 2090: the world has survived the Seventeen Days, days of incredible catastrophic turmoil with tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, etc. all leading to a very different world than the one before. Electronics don't work, lying in piles that have become monuments to the "age of waste." We're in England, where the Queen was poisoned while pregnant with Prince Jamie; the King has remained in London while Jamie and Princesses Mary and Eliza spent the summer at Balmoral. The day they return home is the day of the Roses Ball, the only remaining Royal event.

Of course, there's a rebellion growing, the so-called Tudor Army, led by a man who claims the throne based on descent from a bastard son of Mary Beaufort. He's also the inventor of seeds that helped feed millions... until the Seventeen Days, when they no longer worked and his riches vanished. His army stages a coup during the Roses Ball, killing the King and capturing Mary and Jamie. Eliza escapes thanks to the help of a member of the Army and, after a week starving on the streets, joins as a Tudor Army recruit to try to avenge her parents' death from within.

Eliza is a kind, generous and rather inept person (can't fight, can't hunt, can barely ride - in other words, not one of those resourceful heroines), trusting when she should be a little more wary. Wesley, the guy who helped her escape, clearly has some agenda but she's a little too smitten to put the pieces together and a little too ready to believe in him. This will, obviously, cause problems.

The book fell apart for me at the end. First, it ends on a cliffhanger, which means there will be a sequel (at least one). Second, this England has been starved thanks to the looting of the Army and the weather (you think there's rain now? in 2090 it's magnitudes of worse), so where does the food for the party at the end come from? Third, by the end, Eliza should be just a bit more suspicious and wary than she is. That dropped this from a 4 to a 3, which is too bad because this had definite possibility.

ARC provided by publisher.

22 March 2012

The Masque of the Red Death; Bethany Griffin

Masque of the Red DeathMasque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Love the idea: a plague has devastated what I think is New Orleans, killing the majority of the population and forcing the ones who remain to either stay indoors or use a porcelain mask to breathe the air. Araby is the daughter of the man who has invented the masks and thus is relatively privileged, venturing out at night in corsets, short skirts and glitter make-up to the Debauchery Club. She lives with the memory of the death of her brother Finn, having pledged to not experience things he could never now experience.

The problems are that there's an obvious love triangle (although there is a final twist that did surprise me), the identity of the rebel leader was predictable, as were some of the other plot points. Prince Prospero's menace was more stereotyped than real, sadly, and it isn't until the very end that we see the emergence of the Red Death - leading me to suspect we'll be seeing a sequel. I did like the vague steampunk vibe, and if there is a sequel that would be interesting to explore.

ARC provided by publisher.

20 March 2012

The Solitary House: Lynn Shepherd

The Solitary HouseThe Solitary House by Lynn Shepherd
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was an interesting blend of literary homage, mystery and historical fiction; based in part on The Woman in White and Bleak House, with a little Sherlock Holmes and real-life Dickens for seasoning, The Solitary House is one of the few stand-alones that left me wanting a sequel.

There are two mysteries here, one pertaining to a missing daughter/possibly dead granddaughter and one dealing with anonymous threats made to a Very Important Person. Charles Maddox, formerly of the Detective, is hired to figure out the answers; his travels through Dickensian London are properly atmospheric and interesting. The fog and stench are almost characters in themselves, and the people we meet, while stereotypical to anyone familiar with the literature of that era, feel real. There's an interesting needle at the difference between Dickens' writing and Austen's, a knowing wink to readers of the previous novel (which is on my To Buy/To Read list now).

The plot twist took me by surprise, but the ultimate answer I'd guessed far earlier. That something obvious can still surprise in some way is always a good sign! And the complete cliff-hanger at the end? I know there's a third book and don't know if it's also a stand-alone or if it will somehow continue the Maddox story. To be honest, either would work for me.

One small quibble: I didn't need her to reference P.D. James' The Maul and the Pear Tree (which, to be honest, is a rather coded reference but still... we get that this is an omniscient author from today and this insertion jarred a little).

ARC provided by publisher.

19 March 2012

Trapeze; Simon Mawer

TrapezeTrapeze by
Simon Mawer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Recently I had a conversation with someone about the Holocaust; we agreed that those with direct experience would be gone in the next 10-15 years, and that the memories of those with direct experience were (now) fading or being lost to old age. So it's not surprising that the children of those people are striving to keep those memories alive and to honor their parents' experience.

In this case, the author is writing (loosely) about a friend of her parents, a woman who worked for the Special Operations Executive in France, helping the Resistance. Marian/Anne-Marie/Alice is working in the WAAF when she receives a letter asking her to come to a meeting - that meeting leads to a position in the SEO, training in armed combat, destruction, sabotage, espionage, resisting interrogation and Morse code, and ultimately an assignment in France as a sort of courier for the resistance. In addition to her SEO role, she's also been asked to meet with, and convince, her old crush, Clement Pelletier, now working as a physicist in Paris, working on a new type of bomb (the science of the bomb is explained, as is Shrodinger's cat, but not collapsing the wave function).

As with any good spy novel, there's betrayal and tension, but this is slower paced than most in that genre. The psychological side isn't as intense, either. It was also a little odd to not get a better feel for what she did in the south of France - most of the action once she's in France is centered on her time in Paris, which is too bad as I think more about the courier work would have given us more of a flavor of what life was like during that time (something that I think most readers don't have, whereas life in Paris has been covered in other novels and movies).

ARC provided by publisher.

16 March 2012

The Chalk Girl; Carol O'Connell

The Chalk Girl (Kathleen Mallory Novels, #10)The Chalk Girl by Carol O'Connell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love the darkness in the Mallory mysteries. If there's only one quibble it's that there are far too many mentions of the people who owed Mallory's adoptive father favors, and thus her; ditto her lack of empathy and other sociopathic tendencies, as well as her driving abilities.

The title refers to a schoolgirl who committed suicide before the class photos were taken, and so all that remained of her was the chalk outline of her body. How this fits in to the plot I'll leave for readers to discover. Our killer has strung three people up in trees in the Central Park Ramble, blocking their eyes, nose and mouth so they die slowly from dehydration. The bodies might not have been found were it not for the fact that Coco followed her Uncle Red when "he had his body delivered to the park and turned into a tree"; Coco has Williams syndrome, which leads to an unnatural need for human connection and she bonds with Mallory, much to Charles' distress.

These three bodies lead to a cold case from 15 years earlier, corruption, money laundering and some classic Mallory moments. All the men who knew, and loved, her foster father are included, and as usual she completely steps on their residual affection for her. Her techniques are entirely questionable, yet effective.

Sadly, I now have another 2-3 years to wait before the next one.

15 March 2012

The House of Velvet and Glass; Katherine Howe

The House of Velvet and GlassThe House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great World-era Boston... seances... scrying... love... and the Titanic - what's not to love? Set mostly in Boston's Back Bay, this story of the Allston family takes us through 1915 through 1917 with a few detours to the night the Titanic sank and an evening in Shanghai in 1868. The Titanic sank with Helen (Mrs. Allston) and Eulah, the second, vivacious daughter, and the Widenars, including their son, Harry (in whose honor the Harvard Widenar Library was established).

Three years later, Sybil, the elder daughter attends seances, looking for a connection to her mother and sister, hoping to alleviate her guilt of surviving. Brother Harley (aka Harlan Allston III) has been asked to leave Harvard because of an illicit relationship with a woman; he also has amassed huge gambling debts and is hospitalized after being beaten badly (exactly what happened is only revealed later). There's also Benton Derby, Sybil's former beau and a professor of social ethics at Harvard, who doesn't believe in spiritualism and tries to convince Sybil to give up her addiction to opium and the visions she's experiencing.

The depiction of Boston in that era is so detailed that it is sometimes it's a surprise to realize you're not actually in that world. Sybil's experiences with opium, laudanum and morphine are actually enticing, with the dangers mentioned but not strongly enough that readers will remember. It's also interesting to see the paraphernalia of spiritualists being stripped away while leaving open the question of whether some visions are real (and inexplicable).

When historical fiction introduces real people (and the Widenars and Dr. Friend are real) usually it's a little jarring, but here it's blended in well and doesn't feel forced.

ARC provided by publisher.

14 March 2012

Narcopolis; Jeet Thayil

NarcopolisNarcopolis by Jeet Thayil
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This wasn't so much a "read" as a "DNF" - the plot, such as it is, centers around a 1970s opium den in Bombay (at least that's where most of the 100-ish pages I got through are centered), and we start to meet Dimple, a eunuch, and Mr. Lee, the Chinese owner of the den. As one might expect from this setting, the prose is somewhat hallucinatory and the timeline non-linear.

The problem wasn't that so much as that there was no narrator or, for me, another hook to bring me into the story. I kept wondering why I should care about these people, this setting and, ultimately, I didn't. Perhaps this would have worked better for me as a novella or short story.

ARC provided by publisher.

13 March 2012

Deadweather and Sunrise: Geoff Rodkey

Deadweather and Sunrise: The Chronicles of Egg, Book 1Deadweather and Sunrise by Geoff Rodkey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Egbert (henceforth known as Egg) is the younger sibling of Adonis (a bully and an idiot) and Venus (an idiot, but slightly less mean that Adonis) and is - according to his siblings - the cause of their mother's death. They live with their father and a completely inept tutor on a pirate-infested island in the middle of the Blue Sea; their father is not a pirate but ekes out a living on his ugly fruit plantation. One day Dad finds something that causes a break in the routine, and the entire non-pirate household travels to Sunrise, a beautiful, rich island a few hours away.

Once there, the family is befriended by the Pembrokes... only there's a mysterious hot air balloon accident that sends Egg's family off into the distance. At first Egg is content to learn to ride horses, play croquet with Millicent and read books in Mr. Pembroke's library, but then he realizes that Something Is Not Quite Right. Adventure follows.

Because this is a series, it's clear that we haven't seen the last of Egg's family, the pirates, what his father found and Millicent. This is a fun read, particularly for middle grade boys who like adventure.

ARC provided by publisher.

11 March 2012

Revived; Cat Patrick

RevivedRevived by Cat Patrick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of those genres that hasn't hit the "oh no, not another one" stage": teen girl who, for some reason, isn't dead but should be (think Adoration of Jenna Fox or Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac more than If I Stay). Daisy was rescued from a bus crash when she was four, saved from death by Revive, an experimental drug. Since she was an orphan at the time, she's spent her life since then with agents (known as Disciples) who are studying the affects of this drug and monitoring the other Converts (those saved by the drug).

Daisy takes risks, like forgetting her EpiPen, and we open with her dying - again - and waking up as her "family" relocates yet again, this time to Omaha. Usually she's aloof, but this time she starts to become friends with Audrey, and then with Audrey's really hot older brother. As the book progresses the questions of what the drug has done, to her, to the other Converts, and to "God" (the man behind the drug) get raised, as do the ethics of the experiment. There's some real character growth here, more than in Jenna or Amnesiac.

I was going to give this four stars, not five, because her BFF Megan was a bit of a problem for me, as was the "isn't this a great thing to have happened to [another Convert]" and I wish Wade had been a bigger part of the story. I went with five because those felt like quibbles after the fact.

ARC provided by publisher.

Quantum Wellness Cleanse; Kathy Freston

Quantum Wellness Cleanse: The 21-Day Essential Guide to Healing Your Mind, Body and Spirit
Quantum Wellness Cleanse: The 21-Day Essential Guide to Healing Your Mind, Body and Spirit by Kathy Freston
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I've been having a few health issues and thought that this might help with some of them... while the idea of the cleanse is a good one, and the shopping list and recipes come in handy, the daily discussions detracted from that. As the cleanse goes on the tone becomes more shrill and less helpful; it also concerned me that she relied on doctors studies from Famous Name Doctor with Agenda/Business to Push (like Andrew Weil). Call me cynical, but that bothers me - where are other studies, from those not looking to make big bucks off their research?

Stars Over the Tent; Florence Musgrave

Stars Over the TentStars Over the Tent by Florence Musgrave
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I visited my grandparents the only age-appropriate reading materials were the books my parents (and their siblings) had loved when they were children. 40-ish years later I remembered one book about a girl and Chautauqua, asked if anyone had a title on the What's the Name of that Book board and someone came up with this title.

Was this the book I remembered? I'm not sure - I'd thought the heroine was older, and that there was a love interest, which doesn't appear in this book. Susan is 12, raised in a children's Home since she was young because her father is a touring musician (on the Chautauqua circuit in the summer, the Lyceum tour in winter) who cannot raise her after her mother's death. However, when you're 12 you leave the Home and now it's time for Susan to rejoin her father; she's taken cello, and is quite good, as her father sees her joining his act. Of course, after all this time, they are strangers and most of the book is spent with them trying to reach out to each other.

Set in 1912, written in 1953 (which leads me to believe this is not the right book; my parents would have been too old for this book at that point) Stars Over the Tent is a quiet read about an era before mass entertainment takes over.

10 March 2012

French Women Don't Get Fat; Mireille Guiliano

French Women Don't Get Fat CookbookFrench Women Don't Get Fat Cookbook by Mireille Guiliano
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can see where people read this and it provides one of those life-changes - her advice is practical, and beyond the weekend of the Magical Leek Soup anyone can follow her "diet". I've already bookmarked many of the recipes and am reconsidering my pantry. For more on this, see Pinot and Prose.

09 March 2012

New:; Winifred Gallagher

New: Understanding Our Need for Novelty and ChangeNew: Understanding Our Need for Novelty and Change by Winifred Gallagher
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This starts with an interesting example of how we relate to technology as neophiles or neophobes, and goes on to talk about that continuum. Given the push to embrace the Neat! New! Improved! tools that can assist with teaching in schools (note: some people actually think this can improve teaching, but these are only tools), I was particularly interested in this topic.

There are two problems with this book: the first is that he hammers points home, repeating and repeating and repeating so that there's no chance we don't understand, and the second is that some of the comments about how "popular" culture has changed are simply incorrect (many sitcoms, for example, still use laugh tracks - clearly we haven't evolved that much).

Still, this is food for thought and could possibly help those with different comfort levels understand the other's discomfort with those opposite them.

It's Our Prom (deal with it); Julie Anne Peters

It's Our Prom (So Deal with It)It's Our Prom by Julie Anne Peters
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Azure and Luke are gay (Luke may be bi) and BFFs with Radhika, who is straight but who has become the object of both their affection. Azure lives with her divorced Mom, Luke with his older brother Owen, and Radhika with her Indian parents - all three are in their senior year of high school, with prom looming. Azure has the idea that prom should be inclusive, not just for the jocks and popular kids but for the LGBTQ contingent and the gamers, theatre group, artsy kids, less-well-off students, etc.. She convinces Luke (and strongarms Radhika) into joining the prom committee. Also on the committee are Connor, a really hot guy, and Shauna, one of the popular girls who attended last year's prom and has Big Ideas for her senior one, including themes and decorations and favors, etc. Of course this conflicts with Azure's idea of what the prom should be, leading to arguments and finally grudging respect and possible friendship.

Adding to all the prama is Radhika's sudden change from sunny, driven, heading-for-Yale to teary, not-answering-her-cell with no explanation. This is one of the least fleshed out parts of the book, as her reasons for her change seem to be greater than those she actually admits to. Luke's issues with his brother - whom he assumes is a gay-hating lout - are also unresolved in a way. Throughout the book we see glimpses of a decent man (Owen is 10 years older than Luke) but Luke seems not to see it, or want to see it.

This is told in alternating Azure and Luke chapters, but the voices in each sound very similar and it's only when you see who they're interacting with that you know for certain who's narrating. The idea of a prom that is accessible to all students is certainly one that needs more exploring but the plot gets distracted by Luke's play (a subplot that could have been cut completely).

ARC provided by publisher.

07 March 2012

The New Republic; Lionel Shriver

The New Republic: A Novel
The New Republic: A Novel by Lionel Shriver
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is one of those books with a thoroughly unlikeable hero. Edgar Kellogg has always wanted to be "someone": in prep school it was Toby Falconer, until he overhears Toby calling him "Special K" and "clingy". After years of practicing law (and at the point of making partner) he quits to take on the career of a journalist. This puts him back in touch with Toby, who has radically changed from the golden boy he was as a teen. Edgar doesn't quite buy that, despising Toby's change as much as he hated the original version.

Toby does prove useful, getting Edgar an interview with a newspaper. That leads to a posting in a fictitious part of Portugal, Barba, where the newspaper's famous reporter, Barrington Saddler, has recently gone missing. Barba is supposedly in the midst of an ETA/IRA-like attempt to secede from Portugal; the SOB are the terrorists, O Creme the political (and unlinked) branch. Problem is, since Barrington's disappearance the SOB's have gone quiet and all the reporters in Barba are bored and looking to leave. Edgar's brief is to find out what happened to Barrington as well as report on the situation in the country. Thanks to alcoholic-induced hallucinations of Barrington, Edgar does figure out what's going on, ultimately with tragic consequences. He also starts to become Barrington-esque, with the larger-than-life personality, insider sources and flirtation with Nicole.

It's not just Edgar's need to somehow become the people he idolizes, it's his personality that makes him unlikable. He sneers, makes caustic remarks, is rude and generally doesn't ingratiate himself with anyone (except perhaps Nicola). It's as though he deliberately looks for ways to be unlikable yet important and Someone To Know. The situation in Barba is interesting, with racism (anti-Muslim immigrants), boredom and a nearly inhospitable land mixing to create the need for the reporters to find something - anything - to amuse themselves. There are a few moments (one of the interviews with Tomas Verdade, a conversation with Barrington) that will make reader's think, but overall it's an unlikable person stirring up trouble.

ARC provided by publisher.

04 March 2012

I Am Forbidden; Anouk Markovits

I Am Forbidden: A NovelI Am Forbidden: A Novel by Anouk Markovits
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Those who read The Chosen will find some similarities here: there's a scholar prodigy, gematria, questioning of long-held beliefs, and the transition of a Hasidic group from Eastern Europe to America. However, here the author assumes a better knowledge and understanding about Hassidism and Judaism than I suspect most people will have. For example, Hasids originally opposed the formation of the State of Israel and were anti-Zionism. That's not so say there isn't some explanation (eg, complete immersion three times in the mikvah cleanses your soul, or Jewish beliefs in what happens after death) but I'm not sure it's enough.

The conflict with the beliefs that sends Atara away from her family is shown, but in a weird way: we see her reading "forbidden books", questioning Midrash and commentary, hearing that she might have an arranged marriage and leaving home - but there's nothing about her for the next nearly 100 pages and 47 years! How Mila and Atara's family deal with her absence is only revealed in the last 30 pages. It's also within those last 30 pages that all the major plot twist gets resolved, but in such a way that readers might be confused as to the religious issues.

Those in the NYC area, with the Satmar populations of Williamsburg, Kirias Joel and Monsey nearby will find this an interesting look into that closed world. The dynastic issues are not covered, as this book focuses mostly on the world of the women.

ARC provided by publisher.

03 March 2012

Money Boy; Paul Yee

Money BoyMoney Boy by Paul Yee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Talk about your Tiger Dad: Ray's Ba is always after him to study, work hard, get good grades (the fact that Ba was in the army and police force helps with the yelling part). The problem is that Ray isn't a good student, much more interested in hanging out and playing Rebel State, an on-line war game. And he's gay. When Ba finds out, he kicks Ray out of the house, forcing Ray onto the Toronto streets. His life of deprivation and making ends meet as a "money boy" (prostitute) only lasts a week, but it's a long week and Ray is a stronger, wiser person at the end.

This is a quick read, highlighting the similarities that gay youth have while also being about a very different culture, that of the Chinese-Canadian immigrant. The ending is a little too pat for my taste, with Ray returning home and finding acceptance from everyone but his father (who, we learn throughout the book, has failed consistently at one career or another). Still, the writing and the themes are what won this a deserved Stonewall Award.

Three Times Lucky; Sheila Turnage

Three Times LuckyThree Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Moses Lobo's life began during a hurricane, wrapped up in a blanket and sent downstream on a billboard. By age 11 she's known as Mo LoBeau and the "daughter" of Miss Lana and the Colonel - an inquisitive, straight A student looking for her Upstream Mother. Both she and the Colonel are new to the town of Tupelo Landing yet they've been (mostly) accepted by the town and considered part of the family.

One day a Detective from Winston-Salem appears, and shortly thereafter Mr Jesse is found murdered. Coincidence? The fact that the Colonel has also disappeared and that her best friend Dale (Earnhart Johnson III) is under suspicion leads Mo to start investigating, a search that gets even more frantic when Miss Lana is taken hostage.

Mo is funnier than Theodore Boone, although they both have a lack of cell phones and computers in common. That lack is explained here by the town being poor and in a cell phone dead spot, and unlike the Boone books doesn't feel contrived. The townspeople are quirky in a very real way, and the picnic on Miss Rose's lawn is a delightful set piece. I hope this isn't the last we've seen of Mo and Dale!

ARC provided by publisher.

02 March 2012

Waiting for Sunrise; William Boyd

Waiting for SunriseWaiting for Sunrise by William Boyd
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was one of those books that didn't feel as though it knew what it wanted to be: psychological exploration? mystery? espionage thriller? all of the above? The style and the perspective also changed, sometimes to reflect the journal the main character (Lysander Reif) keeps, sometimes for reasons not quite as apparent.

Lysander is in Vienna undergoing a cure (not The Cure, because he's not seeing Freud, although Freud does make an appearance) for a sexual problem. His doctor, an Englishman, has developed the theory of "Parallellism", which appears to be creating memories that are parallel to the truth, in order to get over the original traumatic ones. And it seems to work - Lysander's problem is resolved, with the help of a gamine woman named Hettie Bull (the theory is that she's somehow representing John Bull, I had another though for the derivation). Hettie is one of the many people he meets in Vienna who later reappear in London, none of whom seem to be completely honest about who they are and why they're doing what they do.

The Great War breaks out and Lysander is essentially blackmailed into working as a spy and rooting out a traitor within the war office. There are several incidents when you wonder why an otherwise intelligent man is so naive, yet another example of the book's uncertainty about its motives.

All in all, this was an easy, vaguely pleasant read that won't really leave a lasting impression.

ARC provided by publisher.

01 March 2012

Elegy for Eddie; Jacqueline Winspear

Elegy for Eddie: A Maisie Dobbs NovelElegy for Eddie: A Maisie Dobbs Novel by Jacqueline Winspear
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I'd never read a Maisie Dobbs mystery before, and at times I mentally put her in the pre-Great War era rather than the 1930s. If you like mysteries and Downton Abbey, this is probably right up your alley.

Maisie has a complicated background: poor, going into service as a young teen, being befriended by a psychiatrist, some time in college, working as a nurse during the War, inheriting a near fortune that enables her to buy a flat, a car and help her friends, becoming the lover/girlfriend of the Viscount (aka the son of the house in which she went into service)... I probably left things out and got them slightly confused because this isn't the first book in the series. There are several pages (scattered throughout) that delve heavily into background exposition on Maisie's life and her discomfort with her new circumstances.

The mystery itself revolves around Eddie, a "slow" man from Maisie's old neighborhood, who was killed - perhaps murdered - while visiting a printing plant. Eddie's gift was working with horses, and he could work with virtually any horse he met; he also ran errands for people at various factories and had visited this one as part of his daily routine. The costers from his neighborhood took a paternal interest in Eddie and suspect his death is not an accident, so off they go to Maisie to ask her help in solving this crime.

As mysteries go, this is rather slight. There's some investigation, but the majority of tbe book doesn't focus on finding clues, interviewing witnesses and drawing conclusions. There is some of that, and Maisie eventually does arrive at the whodunnit (although I was disappointed that she accepts the information given and doesn't act further on it).

ARC provided by publisher.