30 June 2012

Drama; Raina Telgemeier

DramaDrama by Raina Telgemeier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Graphic novels aren't my thing, but Drama makes it work for me.  Set in Middle School, at a time when girls are discovering boys (and vice versa... and boys are discovering boys and girls are discovering girls) and all those formerly understood relationships are now filled with DRAMA, Callie's confusing over Greg and Justin and Jesse and Max were very real.

The title has the additional meaning of drama in the theatrical sense, as Callie, her BFF Liz and other friends are members of the theatre club.  The school is putting on a musical, and Callie is the set designer (her interest in making a working on-stage cannon is a bit ambitious!).

Because this is a graphic novel, the author (and illustrator) can show both types of drama, rather than telling, which works really well here.  I can see middle grade readers responding to the panels based on their own experience, rather than being told how to respond by the author's words

ARC provided by publisher.

27 June 2012

Katerina's Wish; Jeannie Mobley

Katerina's WishKaterina's Wish by Jeannie Mobley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This had such promise: a Czech immigrant family in the Colorado minefields, living in what is clearly a company town, struggles to survive the clash between their dreams of a better life in America and the reality of what they've found, intermixed with classic fairy/folk tales that highlight and illustrate their situation (which is, when you think about it, what fairy/folk tales were supposed to do!).  Where this falls apart is the lack of realization about what their situation really is.  If farming - even minor growing of a few vegetables and having a chicken or two - had been "approved" by the company, wouldn't more of the families have been doing it?  While Trina may not have been that savvy, surely someone else (Old Jan?  her mother? a neighbor?) would have said something.

Trina's relationship with Mark/Marek was also a little odd.  It was completely realistic that she'd had a crush on him while in school, and that she'd still want to mull a future with him. It was also realistic that she'd have this dream of the farm and wanting to leave the mine town.  But Mark/Marek's insistence that this was the only possible life for him was not realistic - he was so good as a woodworker, why didn't someone suggest that as a way to make money?

Copy provided by publisher.

Wonder; R.J. Palacio

WonderWonder by R.J. Palacio
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

August was born with mandibulofacial dysosyosis and a few other problems and looks, well, different.  He's also very smart and very funny, and he's 10.  During the summer he learns that his mother and father have decided that perhaps now he should start school, rather than continuing to be homeschooled.  Starting fifth grade at Beecher Prep will be a challenge in more ways than one, as his looks make the initial "getting to know you" part difficult, plus the idea of learning with others at a set pace?  He's not happy.

From the beginning, Augie's voice is very real.  It's not relentlessly upbeat, it's realistically filled with ups and downs, and his moments of true despair were ones where I, too, would have despaired.  The other voices we hear are not always as real, particularly Justin's and Miranda's.  Miranda's decisions didn't always make sense (of course, what we day and do as we attempt to reinvent ourselves in a new place aren't always the most thought-out decisions! on the other hand, the play...) and Justin's virtual lack of reaction to Augie just didn't quite seem right.  Summer and Jack, on the other hand, were almost as pitch-perfect as Augie.

The turning point in Augie's first year of "real" school comes as a surprise, and again it seems just a little bit off.  Not what happens, but the aftermath back in school and the graduation celebration.

Still, those are minor quibbles.  Over all, this is a book I'm guessing we'll hear more about during book award season.

Copy provided by publisher.

Gone; Mo Hayder

GoneGone by Mo Hayder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How did I not know about this author before?  Very dark, similar to Stephen Booth's Cooper & Fry series (although Jack Cafferty nothing like Ben Cooper).

There's an odd carjacking: a man in a Santa mask performs a seemingly opportunistic jacking, not realizing that there's a little girl in the back of the car.  In these cases, the child is usually returned (well, released) rather quickly... except this doesn't seem to be "these cases" and Martha hasn't been released quickly.  Cafferty and team start to realize that the jacker targeted the car because it had a child in the back, and that this is part of a pattern; in the other cases, the children were released.  Then there's another carjacking, and another girl taken.

Then there's Sgt. Flea Marley, still dealing with her cover-up of her brother's fatal hit-and-run and trying to get her Underwater Search Unit back on track.  The search for the missing girls in part helps, but her hunches start to endanger her and her second-in-command... and then finally her.

The character development is, as always in these cases, very slow and there are so many layers to Cafferty and Marley still to be unwrapped.  Their history, both together and apart, is one of solitary togetherness, a professional relationship that may never be much more because of the damage they each have.  As for the mystery, the main suspect was clearly a false lead and my guess as to who had point them in that direction was right (but it wasn't so obvious that I didn't have to check the back of the book!).

Definitely a "buy more" author/series.

Copy provided by publisher.

26 June 2012

Monkey Wrench; Terri Thayer

Monkey WrenchMonkey Wrench by Terri Thayer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This wasn't the cloying cozy I'd anticipated, nor was it much of a mystery.  Instead, this series about a quilt shop owner, her police officer boyfriend and her staff and quilting friends is really more of a character study hung around a vague mystery.  There are two dead bodies and one attempt (that's the cozy part), and luckily the characters don't go a-sleuthing but do what most of us would do when faced with an unexpected, untimely death.

What was surprising was how little quilting actually came into this.  I think of The Knitting Circle - admittedly, not a mystery - and how the stitches and patterns are explained throughout the book.  Here, the title pattern doesn't even rate a real diagram or explanatory paragraph at the end of the book, much less more than a cursory mention or two inside (there is a scene with Dewey showing Sonya how to put the cut pieces together, but if you're not a quilter...).

Copy provided by publisher.

23 June 2012

The Search; Shelley Shepard Gray

The SearchThe Search by Shelley Shepard Gray
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is really less of a mystery and more of a romance, albeit a very quiet Amish one.  Apparently this is the middle book in trilogy and the mystery - Who Killed Perry And Why - is spread out over the entire series. 

We open with Perry and Frannie arguing.  Soon, Perry is dead and (of course) it's under investigation.  Because this is an Amish community, Perry's involvement with English men was noted as were his increasingly wild ways.  Feeling unable to solve this himself, the Sherrif, Mose, asks his old friend Luke (on leave from Cincinnati PD) to help; Luke at first stays in Frannie's in but moves out because he feels he's getting personally involved with her.  Then Frannie gets injured, and her friend Beth stays to help out... and Beth finds herself drawn to the mysterious Chris.  Of course, both Frannie and Beth are wonderfulgut Amish girls, so any relationship with an English man is going to involve some degree of angst.

Rather than being a typical mystery, we get chapter heading snippets of what I'm guessing are quotes from witness statements and some, but really only a smattering, of detection.  Mostly this centers on the relationships between Perry, Frannie, Beth and the community, as well as Frannie/Luke and Beth/Chris.  Only at the very end, and in a nearly miraculous "reviewing of the obtained evidence" do we finally start moving towards solving the who/whydunnit.

Using the mystery part as a hangar for the romance wasn't bad, but it wasn't what I was expecting.  The Amish scenes assume readers will understand in greater detail the differences between Old and New Order, Mennonites and English.

ARC provided by publisher.

21 June 2012

The Bridge; Karen Kingsbury

The BridgeThe Bridge by Karen Kingsbury
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The publisher's promo for this during BEA mentioned that this was a great cross-over book from Christian fiction - my guess is that's because this is all about saving a bookstore.  To be honest, the amount of prayer and faith in it was not overwhelming, so I don't know how representative of the genre it is.

There are two stories here: one of the bookstore, The Bridge, fallen on worse-than-hard times following a flood, the other of a couple who met in college, abruptly broke up and then reunite over the saving of The Bridge.  The first story is the far more Christian one, with Charlie and Donna Barton praying and putting their faith in the Lord and Jesus to help them (they have no stock, no money to buy stock, aren't getting any loans and are about to be evicted).  An accident puts Charlie in a coma, setting the other plot in motion.  Back in college, Ryan and Molly met and fell heavily in "like" with each other but were from wildly different backgrounds.  Their one safe space (safe from her determined, domineering father) was at The Bridge.  One night, when the household staff Molly's father engaged to keep her safe and under his watch have gone out, they have dinner and... kiss.  Someone sees, tells Dad, who steps in.  Eight years later, they both still carry a torch but until the Barton's need them, they are fully apart.

This is a very slight story, no major lessons learned (except perhaps that kindness can be repaid several thousand-fold), no major romance, nothing that will really stick with the reader for a long time.  It's gentle and a fast read, more like a novella than a full novel. 

As I said, I don't know how this compares to other Christian fiction, but those who wander into this book won't be thrown off by the overt tone.

ARC provided by publisher.

Up Jumps the Devil; Michael Poore

Up Jumps the DevilUp Jumps the Devil by Michael PooreMy rating: 1 of 5 stars

The devil is alive and well and living in America.  Apparently we're his favorite country and he's been messing with us since pre-colonial days: he's with the Indians, the Puritans, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Johnson (maybe), at Woodstock, etc..

While that sounds like a great premise, the time-jumping nature of the book and the lack of real coherence in terms of who or what the devil is or does made it difficult to really get interested in the book.  Tightening up some of the excessive description and adding more character development would have made for a much better book.  As it was, I couldn't get more than 1/4 of the way through.

ARC provided by publisher.

20 June 2012

Monstrous Beauty; Elizabeth Fama

Monstrous BeautyMonstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you thought The Little Mermaid was sad - the original version, not the Disney one -  and liked it, read this book.

Syrenka is obsessed with humans.  She doesn't understand them at first, that they can't live underwater the way she can, but by the time she meets Ezra, she does.  Ezra falls in love with her, writing pages and pages in his journal about her life (and that of the other mermaids) undersea and drawings of her.  Note: this mermaid has fins on her arms (think Batman's costume) and they can do damage.  Ezra lives in a superstitious time (the 1820s), and when a fisherman tries to "save" him from Syrenka, disaster strikes.

Fast forward to today, with Hester, a high school junior, making the decision to never have children: for the past five generations, the women have died shortly after giving birth to a daughter (and the doctors can't figure out why they've died, adding to the mystery).  She spends her summer working as a historical interpreter in Plimoth Plantation, but she's more of a science buff.  When she was much younger, she befriended a strange girl, Linnie, who hung out in the cemetery on Burial Hill.  One night, during a picnic, she meets a man, Ezra...

Told in alternating chapters, we learn about Syrenka (now Sarah) and Hester and how their lives might interact.  Both are obsessed with a guy named Ezra, and both are somehow linked to each other.  That's enough to whet your appetite, right?

The historical chapters read better in some ways than the modern day ones do; perhaps it's because Hester's new-found obsession doesn't quite ring true.  Or perhaps it's because the Ezra/Sarah story is a little more fully realized.  The librarians got a definite "thumbs up" from me, of course.  I wish there had been more time spent at the Plimoth Plantation reenactment (there were many ways that could have dovetailed nicely with the older story).

ARC provided by publisher.

19 June 2012

The Girl in the Clockwork Collar; Kady Cross

The Girl in the Clockwork Collar (Steampunk Chronicles, #2)The Girl in the Clockwork Collar by Kady Cross
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

First of all, I'm not a huge fan of the whole steampunk genre.  I just don't get it. The obsession with Aether and mechanical things and dirigibles?  Does nothing for me.  However, as many of my reader-friends have informed me, I'm clearly out of my mind.  So bear that in mind when you see that this was only a 2-star book.

Second, if this book hadn't been a steampunk book, it still would have only gotten 3-3.5 stars.  Why?  Because the plot just didn't work for me.  For example, Griffin is only 18?  That either makes the others around that age, which they don't seem to be, or they're older and somehow deferring to a younger guy?   Mei's supposed devotion to Jasper?  So obvious that there was more going on there than what she was telling him.  Etc.

As heist plots go, this wasn't terribly interesting.  What Dalton wanted was always hidden, but not in a clever way.  It seemed to be that the author had to figure out a reason for him to kidnap Jasper and retrieve the machine pieces and - oh! a heist! that'll work.  The real raison d'etre for the book was the steampunk world, not the plot or the interpersonal motivations and relationships. YMMV, particularly if you're a steampunk fan.

Copy provided by publisher.

17 June 2012

Goddess Interrupted

Goddess Interrupted (Goddess Test, #2)Goddess Interrupted by >Aimee Carter
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

If you don't have a firm grasp of Greek mythology before reading this, you're going to have problems.  Even with one, remembering who is now who is difficult - those "modern" names don't help (seriously, why rename Hera Calliope when Calliope has her own, very important role?).  Sigh.  And then there's the plot...

Back in the "good old days", Harlequin romances featured a sweet, virginal young woman who was fated to be with a cruel, distant older man.  Sometimes it was orphan/guardian, sometimes not.  Here, in the 2010s, it's difficult to understand why anyone would think a story of an eternal male (Henry, aka Hades) and a 19-year-old human girl (recently brought back from the dead and made immortal) is a good plot device.  Henry may not have been the cruel, distant Spanish plantation owner of the stories from my youth, but he might as well have been.  The way he treats Kate?  Ugh.

There were some interesting moments here, but even the Underworld seems to have been cribbed from other books featuring Heaven (a little Lovely Bones here, a little Elsewhere over there, a smidge of other things for flavor).  Diane/Demeter's reassurances that Kate wasn't a "replacement" child fall flat, and Persephone is just an out-and-out horror.

Copy provided by publisher.

16 June 2012

The Immortal Rules; Julie Kagawa

The Immortal Rules (Blood of Eden, #1)The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dystopian vampires... I'll admit it, I wasn't sure I wanted to read this but I'm glad I did.

In this world, there are vampires, rabids (a type of vampire) and humans.  Humans in New Covington are either Registered, which means that they "donate" blood monthly, or Unregistered, which means they don't get the perks of housing and food that the Registereds do.  Allie is an Un, scrounging for food on a daily basis and sharing shelter and provisions with a very small gang.  One day she finds an amazing hoard of food and tells the gang - on their way to find it, they're accosted by rabids.

Allie nearly dies but is found by Kanin, a vampire who isn't quite like the others.  He Turns her, then trains her in martial arts, reading/writing/'rithmatic and vampire lore.  Kanin's clearly searching for something and a crazed vampire named Sarren is searching for him.  Thanks to Allie, Kanin is killed and she's now on her own, striving to be a "good" vampire who doesn't Turn humans.

Her journey leads her to a small band of humans searching for a mythical island named Eden.  Jeb, their leader, is one of those righteous, stoic men, but the others seem ok (and Zeke, Jeb's son is way more than just "ok").  She lives with them for a while, trying to hide her vampire nature and nearly succeeds... And I'll stop there so as not to spoil the rest of the book.

Here's the thing: as good as the writing is, this is (for me, at least) a marriage of two genres that are, well, played out.  Stake 'em, Dano.  There's nothing really new here: no interesting additions to the vampire myth, no twist on dystopias that made me go "hmmmm....".  That canned food and petrol would still be around and useful 60+ years after the plague?  Not really buying that (a stash of Twinkies, on the other hand, I'd believe in a second!).  Finally, the cover.  Allison Sekemoto is described at times as "exotic", yet the cover?  Not so much.  Pretty, if you like blood-red eyes and tears of blood, but not exotic.

Copy provided by publisher.

15 June 2012

Spellcaster; Cara Lynn Shultz

Spellcaster (Spellbound, #2)Spellcaster by Cara Lynn Shultz
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I haven't read the first book, but wow did it feel as though I had.  Not because there was a lot of backstory explication, but because the plot of both this and the previous book seemed so familiar.  Now, of course, I'm wracking my brain trying to figure out which recently-read book about a teen witch cursed with a soul mate it was...

As far as the writing went, for an author based in NYC her geography was a bit weird.  Did Aunt Christine live in the UES, or closer to midtown?  Vince A was located (I think) where Marymount is, but the way they took the subway there didn't quite make sense (the walk from Lex to Fifth wasn't mentioned).  The characters were very much one-note, with Megan being soooo evil and demented, Kristin being such a bitch, Brendan being "Sex on a Stick" and Mr. Amazing Boyfriend, etc. and little variation on any theme.

ARC provided by publisher.

14 June 2012

Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling; Michael Boccacino

Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling: A NovelCharlotte Markham and the House of Darkling by Michael Boccacino
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was one of those "oh I wish there were a 4.5 rating" books!

When I started, I thought it would be Rebecca or Jane Eyre-esque: genteel widowed governess in a remote manor home with a recent widower and his two sons.  But shortly into it I realized there was a serious dose of Jonathan Strange here.

We open with the murder of Nanny Prum.  A witness swears there's a black man to blame, but the village constable thinks it was the work of a savage beast.  One of the daily activities Nanny and the boys, James and Paul, did was to visit their recently dead mother's grave (they weren't dealing well with the death and somehow talking to her was going to help).  Charlotte (aka Mrs. Markham) takes the boys there, too, but one day on their way back they wander into a fog and come out at a mysterious house, Darkling.

Clearly this isn't a normal house, because time passes differently here and Lilly, the boy's mother, is there to great them.  Charlotte's a little perplexed and worried about this (who wouldn't be?) but the house itself and their host, Mr. Whately, combine to calm her nerves a little while the boys visit their mother.  Of course they return, and Charlotte starts to explore the house: there's the library with books that can lead to other worlds, paintings that do the same, a collection of "deaths" and little wax men/candles to help guide her.  What Charlotte would really like to do, however, is take the boys home permanently and continue her late night chats with
Mr. Darrow, her employer.  Darkling is in The Ending, a world of weird, gruesome creatures and one with some sort of civil war brewing.  Trying to get the boys home, she loses them to The Ending and returns to Everton to tell Mr. Darrow that his dead wife and living children are in another world? dimension? universe?  As any good father would, he agrees to go help her fight for them and they return to The Ending... and too much more would be spoilers.

So, on to the quibbles.  The era in which the book is set isn't stated, but it's clearly a previous century.  At one point, the author describes Charlotte's composure as "Victorian" which felt just a little too meta - if this wasn't the Victorian Age, it was pretty damn close.  The game that Charlotte and Mr. Whately play is confusing: we see her moves (because she tells us what she's doing) but his are unclear.  Since he didn't kidnap the boys, that wasn't a move but somehow it seemed as though it might have been.  Finally, the politics of The Ending were a mess.  Was the strife about death?  the humans entering? something more?

However, both the world of Everton and The Ending (nicely balanced names, right?) were well-realized and at times I actually wanted to visit Darkling.  Maybe.

ARC provided by publisher.

Phantom; Jo Nesbø

PhantomPhantom by Jo Nesbø
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Poor Harry Hole: all he seems to want to do is nurse his physic wounds while working as a debt collector in Hong Kong.  Yet in The Leopard he's dragged back into the world of serial killers and the internecine fighting between Kripos and Crime Squad.  Three years later, he's pulled back again because his "son", Oleg, has been arrested for the murder of Gusto Hanssen and Harry's convinced he can 1. solve the murder and 2. help Oleg (and by extension, the love of Harry's life, Rakel).

The killing seems to have been motivated by drug use - there's a new drug out, more effective than herion, less chance of overdosing and, most important, cheaper.  It's called violin and it's synthetic.  And no one knows who's creating it or who the man, Dubai, the head of the drug distribution rings is.  Harry's investigation finds him skirting the world of the Russian mob, looking into drug enforcement efforts and even grave-digging.  Of course there's the usual violence and darkness.  By the end of the book, we know whodunnallofit and why they dun it... and Harry is in a situation I don't quite see how he's going to return from.

When I read this, for some reason I see "Rich Man, Poor Man"-era Nick Nolte playing Harry. Anyone else see that?  Anyway, the running internal, dying monologue of Gusto's dropped this a star - it didn't illuminate anything in the story for me.

ARC provided by publisher.

12 June 2012

Does This Church Make Me Look Fat?; Rhoda Janzen

Does This Church Make Me Look Fat?: A Mennonite Finds Faith, Meets Mr. Right, and Solves Her Lady ProblemsDoes This Church Make Me Look Fat?: A Mennonite Finds Faith, Meets Mr. Right, and Solves Her Lady Problems by Rhoda Janzen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a real mish-mash of a book: part exploration of faith, part story of how the author found love and remarried, and part tale of cancer survival.  That's why there are only three stars, because in some ways all three parts get shortchanged.  There are wry observations, so-called "SAT" words and humorous asides about all three aspects (for example, her comments about her then-boyfriend Mitch's habit of calling his son 'Billy the [insert thing the child failed to do/did to excess]').

The title is a tossed-off comment as she dresses to attend the Pentecostal church Mitch has joined and is never alluded to again.  Her and Mitch's romance, deepening faith and marriage are really the focus of this memoir, with the cancer and her faith experience as part of that.  Her Mennonite roots are not explained (that's in the first book), yet a little more of that content would have helped.

Still, this is a quick read and if the faith aspects don't bother you it's not bad.

ARC provided by publisher.

11 June 2012

A Mutiny in Time; James Dashner

A Mutiny in Time (Infinity Ring #1)A Mutiny in Time by James Dashner
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I think this needed to be longer - the amount of time setting up the conceit of a world on the brink of a Cataclysm, run by the SQ and bearing a resemblance to our world but missing in many ways detracted from the first of Dak and Sera's missions, to stop the mutiny aboard Christopher Colombus' ship.

Dashner knows how to make a story interesting, and the world in which Dak and Sera live was very real (ok, I did have some concerns about the misuse of "quantum" but that's just me. I know the rest of the world misuses it all that time), as did the mission of the Hystorians to thwart the SQ.  More time setting the scene in Italy would have been nice, however, and the battle felt rushed. It was also a little unclear what a Remenant was, as it appeared to be slightly different for Sera and Brint.

As with The 39 Clues, Scholastic is planning a huge website/on-line companion for this series. While I know you can get through the series without going on-line, it's a little concerning that there is this push - many students don't have access to computers outside school, and many schools may block the site as a game.

ARC provided by publisher.

Fake Mustache; Tom Angleberger

Fake Mustache: Or, How Jodie O'Rodeo and her Wonder Horse (and Some Nerdy Kid) Saved the U.S. Presidential Election from a Mad Genius Criminal MastermindFake Mustache: Or, How Jodie O'Rodeo and her Wonder Horse (and Some Nerdy Kid) Saved the U.S. Presidential Election from a Mad Genius Criminal Mastermind by Tom Angleberger
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Lenny Junior's best (only?) friend is Caspar, who lives in a home without tv.  For Caspar's birthday his grandmother gives him $400 to spend frivolously, which he does on a "man about town" suit and a very impressive fake mustache.  Suddenly there are bank robberies and other crimes being committed by different, odd groups (like librarians, or mimes) and no visible ring leader.  Lenny suspects that Caspar is behind all this, but can't prove anything... until he teams up with Jodie O'Rodeo (a preteen tv star who sings, yodels and rides her horse).

The humor of the Origami Yoda series is missing, and the suspension of disbelief needed for this book was just too great for me, but it might not be for the target audience.

Copy provided by publisher.

10 June 2012

When You Wish Upon a Rat; Maureen McCarthy

When You Wish upon a RatWhen You Wish upon a Rat by Maureen McCarthy
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Cute, but not quite cute enough. This is the story of a girl, Ruth, whose favorite aunt gives her a stuffed rat, saying that this was a special present.  Ruth takes to Rodney, but her self-involved brother Marcus tosses it out the window one day and things then start to go wrong for the family.  Her parents have no time for her, Marcus becomes even more insufferable, and younger brother Paul is not much better.  There has to be a better life...

Her only friend, Howard (an abused child), suggests that they return to the place where Marcus tossed Rodney out the car window.  While Howard dozes and searches for the remains of the stuffed animal, Rodney himself appears to Ruth and offers her three opportunities to find another life, one she would prefer to the one she has.  Of course, nothing goes exactly as Ruth thinks it will, and ultimately, well, there's no place like home.

Only the second of the three "lives" was interesting, as Ruth ends up in a Catholic school that takes in orphans/poor children as well as "lady scholars" who has parents and money.  The friend she makes there, Bridie, is one of the few real characters in the book.  The other two lives are predictable and it's obvious why Ruth doesn't want to stay there.

Middle Grade readers may like the structure and the Big Lesson better than I.

ARC provided by publisher.

06 June 2012

Darth Paper Strikes Back; Tom Angelberger

Darth Paper Strikes Back (Origami Yoda #2)Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was just as cute as the previous book!

Origami Yoda has returned, but Harvey introduces Darth Paper into the mix and it Does.Not.Go.Well.  For two months Dwight/Yoda and Harvey/Darth battle it out, over the bug project, over electives and, well, over everything.  Then Jen asks Yoda for cheerleading advice and suddenly Dwight is suspended from school, possibly being transferred to CREF (where the undesirables go).  Tommy and the gang swing into action to save him, and Yoda.

What's so fun about this is that you not only have real friendships portrayed, but Harvey is allowed his $.02 via comments, doodles and even a "chapter" in the case file the kids prepare.  How fair is that?

Copy provided by publisher.

05 June 2012

Talulla Rising; Glen Duncan

Talulla RisingTalulla Rising by Glen Duncan
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book had such promise: a world where vampires hunt (or is that breed) werewolfs (or werwulfs) and other oddities.  The problem is the writing.  I know this is a sequel, and perhaps that's the problem (I haven't read the first book).  On the other hand, it could also be the writing style.

Here's what I mean: far too much is alluded to in one place, with bits and pieces of explanation leaking out in a sort-of "nyah nyah I know what's going on and you don't" manner.  Take Talulla's nightmares as an example.  She mentions that there are three of them and even talks about two.  Then there's a strong hint about the third.  And later, another hint.  Later still, another.  Finally we get to know what the third nightmare is, but by then I didn't really care.

I like books that stand alone, which this does.  But by a quarter of the way through, I hadn't been made to care about the situation or the characters, and the hints and circular writing didn't help.

ARC provided by publisher.

Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures; Emma Straub

Laura Lamont's Life in PicturesLaura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma Straub
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The old days of the studio system will perplex many readers: how could anyone want to be a star badly enough to allow a stranger to change your name... you hair color... your marital status... your sexual orientation... your accent... your talent?  This book goes some of the way towards explaining that.

Laura was born Elsa, a Wisconsin girl of strong Norwegian stock.  Her father runs a summer stock theatre, and she and her sisters Hildy and Josephine help out with the cooking, cleaning and other related chores.  One summer Hildy (the beautiful dreamer) meets Cliff.  It doesn't end well.  Eight years later, Elsa meets Gordon-from-Florida and sees in him a way to escape to Hollywood, where she can act on a bigger [sound]stage.  That marriage doesn't go well, but Elsa - now Laura Lamont - and her two daughters manage just fine (so fine, in fact, that Laura wins an Oscar, much to her father's delight).  Married to the behind-the-scenes boss at a studio, her life seems charmed until Irving dies.

I wish the book had spent more time with that phase of Laura's life: the studio life, the world created there (need a wedding dress? go to costumes.  need a lawyer?  they'll provide one).  Several of the characters and films are clearly veiled references to well-known actors and films of the past, and that's part of the fun.

Where the book goes wrong is spending so much time on Laura's post-Irving life.  That could have gone a little faster, with less time spent on the minutiae of her days, her lackluster attempts to revive her career, etc., and we really didn't need to hear from Gordon again.

ARC provided by publisher.

04 June 2012

Beneath the Shadows; Sara Foster

Beneath the ShadowsBeneath the Shadows by Sara Foster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Despite the blurbage (and references to) Rebecca, this wasn't quite like that - although there are definite Gothic overtones!

There's something so very evocative and creepy about North Yorkshire.  I mean, Dracula is set there.  Ditto Wuthering Heights.  So definite points for setting.  Adam's mother lived there until she ran away (to have him), and after her death from cancer he moves in with his grandparents for a summer.  After university, he meets Grace and they marry... Millie follows less than a year later.  When Adam's grandparents die and leave him their cottage, he suggests they move into it to take a break from their London life.  Shortly after, Adam takes Millie out for a walk.  All Grace knows is that Millie somehow is returned to the cottage, and that Adam has disappeared.  A year later, Grace and Millie return to go through the cottage, take care of the contents, and then rent it out until the legalities are settled.

The village is tiny - nearly deserted - but there's an old schoolhouse in which Meredith and her daughter Claire live.  Claire is fine, but Meredith's perfectly polite demeanor clearly masks something very different.  Ben, the handyman/contractor Grace hires to help renovate the cottage, is also hiding something.  The winter's approach, often snowing so hard that drivers can't see the road, along with the grandfather clock that stops and restarts at 3am and the stories in Ghosts of the Moors all combine to drive Grace slightly mad.

The sense of menace is real and the setting plays a large part in that.  The mysteries of what happened to Adam,  what Ben is hiding and why Meredith is less than honestly welcoming are all eventually resolved.  To be honest, I was hoping for a more Wicker Man/Harvest Home theme and Grace's frequent "tears streaming down her face" led to the four-star review.  Make it 4.5 (if only we had that option!)

ARC provided by publisher.