30 April 2013

Close My Eyes; Sophie McKenzie

Close My EyesClose My Eyes by Sophie McKenzie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Memo to publishers: please STOP comparing thrillers to Gone Girl. The book we're reading is rarely worthy of the comparision.

This is one of those thrillers where you're not always sure who to trust. Eight years earlier, Art and Gen's baby was stillborn and in many ways, Gen has never gotten over that loss, still mourning Beth's death. Art is trying to move on, and is suggesting yet another round of IVF to help them conceive a new child. As Art turns 40, Gen starts to wonder what's going on: a woman comes to her door, insisting that the baby was a live birth, spirited away from Gen. She notes a strange payment from one of Art's bank accounts. People connected to the birth are either dead or have disappeared. And Art is getting weird phone calls that he's hiding from her. Gen sets out to find the truth - the twist here isn't quite telegraphed but it's not a complete surprise (in part because the book is interspersed with an interior monologue clearly belonging to a child).

Belief doesn't quite need to be suspended here, just occasionally paused. At times, the action seems speeded up, with quite a lot crammed into a day or an hour. And Gen's naivete about life is sometimes annoying, necessary because of the plot but annoying all the same.

ARC provided by publisher.

What We Found in the Sofa and How it Saved the World; Henry Clark

What We Found in the Sofa and How it Saved the WorldWhat We Found in the Sofa and How it Saved the World by Henry Clark
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reading this, I had flashbacks to Adam Rex's Cold Cereal and thought, "this is a cute idea but..." Maybe I'm just too old, but there was something a little missing here.

The idea of Indorsia and a computer disguised as a living room set was interesting. Likewise the "Victory Garden" crayon set, including rutabaga and zucchini colored crayons. Freak, Fiona and River's adventures in the Underhill house and Hellsboro were, as per the genre, a little over the top. More on the flash mobs might have been fun, or less on the CCD. Or perhaps a little more humor (there was very little here) would have been the answer. Still, I'm not the target age group and they might find it a better read.

ARC provided by publisher.

Love in the Time of Global Warming; Francesca Lia Block

Love in the Time of Global WarmingLove in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The title is a bit misleading: where was the global warming? This was more "Love in the Time Following Serious Earthquakes."

Most of the action is centered in LA, with Santa Monica and other areas destroyed by the Big Shake (or several). With food and supplies scarce, not to mention modern conveniences like plumbing, air conditioning, etc., survival is a little difficult. Pen's journey to find her family is somewhat based on Homer's Odyssey, but knowledge of that book isn't necessary. I wanted to love this book, but for some reason it just didn't "wow" me. Not really sure why, it might be that the writing wasn't inspiring or the story felt a little empty at the end. YMMV.

ARC provided by publisher.

Ink; Amanda Sun

Ink (Paper Gods, #1)Ink by Amanda Sun
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another in the "descendents of the gods" genre, this time set in Japan and the gods are Kami.

Katie has recently lost her mother (Dad doesn't seem to have been a part of their lives - but my guess is he'll play a role later in the series) and because her grandfather is receiving cancer treatment, she's moved to Japan to live with her aunt. Not only does she not really know her aunt, she doesn't know Japanese, Japanese culture or their educational system: it's a complete upheaval of her life. After two months she's starting to make a friend, Yuki, and understand the language (immersion will do that for you); then she overhears a very nasty breakup between Yuu Tomohiro and his girlfriend and sees something odd - the drawing he did is moving. Thus begins Katie's obsession with Tomo and their adventure(?) with his drawings and her affinity for the ink.

There's plenty here about Japan, but in many ways there was not enough. When Katie and Yuki go to visit Yuki's brother, a caretaker/webmaster for a shrine, there was some discussion about Kami but not enough for anyone who is coming to this from a position of complete ignorance. Ditto Japanese history. It was also a little strange to me that Katie would have a cell phone and computer, but no friends in America with whom to interact (I don't mean "Americans in Japan", I mean "people she left behind when she moved"), because she doesn't seem to be the loner/loser type.

ARC provided by publisher.

28 April 2013

The Girl of Fire and Thorns; Rae Carson

The Girl of Fire and Thorns (Fire and Thorns, #1)The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can totally understand why this got so much love... for me, though, it was merely a good, not great, read.

Elisa is fat, not particularly smart, a second daughter and just turning 16. She's also being (rather hurridly) married to Alejandro, King of the neighboring country - she's the price for a treaty between her father and Alejandro that guarantees help as Alejandro defends his country from the Inviernos. The world that Elisa lives in is populated by humans, brought there by God as their world died; every hundred years, God "chooses" someone via a Godstone implanted in their navels. Elisa is that chosen one, kept ignorant of any prophecy surrounding the Godstones and how they interact with the magic in that world.

She manages to grow beyond our initial impressions of her, but the other characters failed to surprise me. Alejandro, Humberto, Ariña and Cosmé all seemed "types". Ditto the events - perhaps knowing that this is part of a series spoiled my "wow" factor? As for the religious aspects, there both was and was not enough: we don't learn enough about the Sacrifice of Pain or how the religion evolved (we do hear about the differences between the three kingdoms, though), and more would have helped us and Elisa. It was also a little annoying how much time we spend dwelling on Elisa's weight.

Lost; S.J. Bolton

LostLost by S.J. Bolton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Lacey Flint series started dark and has kept on going...

Lacey's recovering from the events in Cambridge (Dead Scared) and wondering if she wants to return to the force; she's also avoiding DI Mark Joesbury, who is approaching stalker status as he spends nights in his car, parked where he can see her front door. Barney Roberts, just in his teens and suffering from OCD and other emotional issues, is her neighbor and so observant he notices Mark's nocturnal waiting before Lacey does. They live in South London, currently rocked by the abductions of five boys all near Barney's age: four have been found dead, throats slit and drained of blood but no other injuries. Barney and his friends wonder if they'll be next, all the while staying out later than might be safe and breaking in to the local community center. Because of her proximity to Barney and his friends, Lacey is (unwillingly) drawn into the investigation.

I know several mothers who avoid books where Bad Things happen to children. If you're one of them, this is not the book for you!

Meeting Barney was a lot of fun, and seeing more of him would be nice (but only if he doesn't turn into the Hadiyyah of Elizabeth George's Lynley/Havers mysteries). The Mark/Lacey pairing still suffers from clunky moments and dialog, but is better than the previous outing. And Lacey? Still struggling with her past. While her "prison connection" worked here, I hope we tread carefully with that.

Can't wait for the next one!

ARC provided by publisher.

27 April 2013

Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel; Diana Lopez

Ask My Mood Ring How I FeelAsk My Mood Ring How I Feel by Diana Lopez
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Are mood rings a thing again? Or is the author trying to relive her youth?

Chia (more on that later) is an average middle school girl: not a great student, not seriously popular but not friendless, etc.. Her biggest problem is that her mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer, and Chia now has to live up to a promesa made so that her mother will get better, as well as cope with the changes that this brings to her family. She has minor problems, like her brilliant-yet-deeply-annoying younger sister and Jimmy "Gimme", her younger brother who throws temper tantrums as easily as breathing. There's nothing unusual in any of this, really, and this may be a good read for the target audience.

What annoyed this reader was the references to mood rings, pet rocks and Chia pets. Because this book is set today, I spent time wondering how old the parents were if these were things they'd grown up with, and came up with my age. It's not implausible that someone my age, who was a child/teen in the 70s, would have a middle school child (or two). But these parents don't act like their in their mid-40s/50s. I also wondered about the Chia thing. Where I am, in the metropolitan NY area, we have Chia commercials every holiday season. Perhaps they don't in Texas (where the book is set)?

ARC provided by publisher.

25 April 2013

The Arrivals; Melissa Marr

The Arrivals: A NovelThe Arrivals: A Novel by Melissa Marr
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Melissa Marr does such a great job building worlds! The Wastelands are inhabited by vampire-like creatures, humanoids evolved to do things like mining, and the Arrivals, humans taken from our world and brought there. Each Arrival was a killer in our world, so perhaps that has something to do with why they've gone to this new place. None are from the same era, with Jack and sister Kitty the longest there (26 years) and from the oldest era (1870s), and in this new place people don't necessarily die, they can rise again after six days. Oh, and there are monks who summon demons. Discovering what makes the Wastelands tick is part of the fun. Figuring out how (if) Jack and Kitty can keep their crew safe from Arjuni and his crew, not to mention from Garuda, is the rest of it.

My problem here wasn't with the world, but the pacing is a bit slow. I wasn't sure where this was going, or how far we were going to veer from normal. Westerns are also not my genre, not even ones set in a very different world. That I kept reading and enjoyed it as much as I did is testament to Marr's skill.

ARC provided by publisher.

Far Far Away; Tom McNeal

Far Far AwayFar Far Away by Tom McNeal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jeremy Johnson Johnson lives in Never Better, a small, blink-and-you'll-miss-it town in the midwest (as best as I can tell; the exact location isn't given). As with many such small towns, there are definite characters: Jeremy's father never leaves their house, there's a crazy lady waiting for the son that disappeared years ago to reappear, the deputy sheriff is a near-dwarf, and the baker makes the most amazing treat, a Princes Tart. Jeremy himself is a little odd, unatheletic and prone to hearing voices. The predominant voice is that of Jacob, as in "William and Jacob Grimm"; Jacob would tell you he's a ghost, for some reason stuck on this plain and looking for the thing undone.

Far Far Away is very much like one of Grimm's tales, with a villian luring innocents in, some magic (in the form of the baker's food and Jacob's presence), a fair maiden and a hero. It's not light, again like the Grimm stories, and might surprise those used to the sanitized Disney versions. There's a lot of Grimm trivia in here, with Jacob competing on a game show called Uncommon Knowledge (his specialty? The Brothers Grimm).

Despite owing so much to the Brothers and their works, this is original and very enjoyable.

ARC provided by publisher.

If You Were Here; Alafair Burke

If You Were HereIf You Were Here by Alafair Burke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is more a mystery/thriller than one or the other, and the twists did surprise me (although in retrospect one of them was a little telegraphed).

McKenna (yes, that's the first name!) is a former prosecutor, one brought down by apparently falsely accusing a police officer of using a drop piece to claim that his shooting was in self-defense. It turns out this was one of those odd consequences, she was wrong, she was vilified and lost her job. Ten years later she's married and has reinvented her life as a reporter. The new assignment? Talk to a high school baseball star, one who was saved from death on the subway tracks by a mysterious woman. McKenna suspects there's something more to this and - surprise - she's right. The "slip" onto the tracks came as the student was being chased by the woman he'd stolen an iPhone from, and his savior? The same woman. Who might, very possibly, be an old friend who disappeared years ago.

Suddenly McKenna's life is turned upside down. Another article she's working on is declared to be "worse than Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass", another disgrace and another job loss. The video of the subway saving disappears from all servers and the originating cell phone. Her husband has a mysterious conversation that implies he knows where Susan is and how to find her. Somehow this is tied in to environmental terrorism - maybe. The only person she can turn to is the detective who investigated Susan's disappearance.

The twists occasionally stretch credulity, but never so far that it breaks. McKenna's questions about her marriage to Patrick, her friendship with Susan and her ability to do her job don't feel planted but grow organically from her investigations. So why the four star? The explanation of what happened ten years ago (the accusation against the cop) was a little muddied. Some of the characters were a little unbelievable (Dana, the photographer, in particular). Plus, really, today you do not need to explain what RT means in a tweet. Assume the audience knows.

ARC provided by publisher.

24 April 2013

The Silent Wife; A.S.A. Harrison

The Silent WifeThe Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I really shouldn't read blurbs, because they raise expectations too high. Calling this akin to Gone Girl makes some sense: we have dual points-of-view, we have a husband and wife in a "meh" marriage with problems, and there's a murder (the wife, Jodi, actually says that she never thought she'd be a killer somewhere in the early stages of the book). Are the narrators unreliable? No idea. I read 30% (per my Kindle's reckoning) and gave up.

Where this differed from Gone Girl for me was that I didn't care about the situation or Jodi and Todd. While in GG I didn't like them, the plot was interesting enough to bring me along. Plus, not liking them was part of the author's intent. That may have been the case here, but the way in which we're introduced to what happened is so slow, giving me two people I really didn't want to read about with no "why you should read further" in that first 30%.

ARC provided by publisher.

Reboot; Amy Tintera

Reboot (Reboot, #1)Reboot by Amy Tintera
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Despite what I hear at publishers pushes, the dystopian genre is beyond overcrowded and there's little new being said. Reboot is a case in point. Set in future Texas after some virus attacks the population, the lines between the rich (known as ricos) and poor are stark. And then there are the Reboots, people who have died and "rebooted" (aka came back to life). No, they're not zombies. They're just different: less emotional, stronger, less in need of food. Slightly robotic, in other words, with a human casing. The degree of their change depends on how long they were dead; under 60 minutes is closest to human, over 100 minutes is optimal. Wren was dead for 178 minutes, the longest ever, making her the darling of the HARC (forgot what that stands for - but it's the Big Bad Government Agency Controlling Everything). Contrasting with that is Callum, a mere 22. Somewhat reluctantly, Wren becomes his trainer, introducing him to his new "life" as a Reboot.

I got that part. Wren's pride is challenged (can she take a low number and create a Reboot as good as she is?). But the emotional ties to Callum? Either the Reboots are not as unemotional as they're reputed to be, Wren is "malfunctioning", or the author needed a plot twist. There were other things that bothered me (beyond the series aspect and the dystopian thing), for example I felt that a little more exposition at times was needed, particularly towards the end. The writing didn't wow me, either, and this theme of teens as killers? Can we just end it now?

ARC provided by publisher.

The Butterfly Sister; Amy Gail Hansen

The Butterfly SisterThe Butterfly Sister by Amy Gail Hansen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Given the recent revelations about Horace Mann and Poly Prep (not to mention Penn State) and remembering my college years, when it was known that if you were female, you stayed away from certain professors and if you were male, you stayed away from others, the affair between Mark (Assistant Professor) and Ruby was a familiar story. Ditto Mark's affairs with other female students. Adding the academic theft of their work to further his own professional rise to tenure and full professorship only added to my interest.

Ruby's involvement with the investigation into Beth's disappearance, based on their tenuous connection via Ruby loaning/giving Beth her suitcase (which later ends up being returned to Ruby by a lost/delayed luggage service) also made sense. She's tentative, but intrigued, in part because of the way she left Tarble following her suicide attempt: it's a way to tentatively reconnect with her former friends and life. Using a possible newspaper article as her 'in' gives her a reason to connect and keep her distance in case the hoped for healing doesn't happen (of course it does).

So why only three stars? The reason behind Beth's disappearance. It just didn't ring true. I didn't buy the premise or the ending.

ARC provided by publisher.

21 April 2013

Pi in the Sky; Wendy Mass

Pi in the SkyPi in the Sky by Wendy Mass
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Very cute!

Joss lives in The Realms, seventh son of the Supreme Overlord of the Universe. His job? Deliver pies (except they're not really pies, they're encoded with stuff necessary for the birth and sustenance of planets and solar systems) and go to school. One day, someone on Earth actually sees The Realms, which draws the penalty of the entire solar system being removed from space/time... the entire solar system with the exception of Annika, a human girl. Now Joss is in charge of recreating the whole thing and restoring it to the point where Annika sees The Realms.

There's a lot here for middle grade readers to think about: what happens after death. what else might be Out There. what the universe is made of (and how it all works). The humor will also appeal, as will Joss' problem of being the youngest, sixth smartest kid in the family, not to mention still being in school despite being a few billion years old. Not fair, is it?

ARC provided by publisher.

19 April 2013

Hour of the Rat; Lisa Brackmann

Hour of the Rat by Lisa Brackmann
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I started this. Read 40ish pages. Put it down. Read other books. Picked it up. Read another 100 pages. Decided I just didn't care: the writing wasn't holding my interest. The situation was too drawn out. The characters didn't interest me. DNF.

ARC provided by publisher.

Boy Nobody; Allen Zadoff

Boy NobodyBoy Nobody by Allen Zadoff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Probably not the best idea to start this on the same day that the networks were doing wall-to-wall coverage of the Boston Marathon bombers shooting/manhunt.

Anyway, "Ben" is a 16-year-old with a unique skill set: he is a trained assassin, working for The Program. He's the new guy at school, the one who mysteriously moves away shortly after someone at the school suffers the loss of a parent. We meet him at the end of one assignment in Natick (near enough to Watertown MA to be problematic today!) and then he's given a new one in New York. Target? A Bloomberg-esque mayor, albeit one with a daughter at Calhoun. Complications arise...

Interesting idea, but I'm not sure where the author wanted to take the story. Is this the start of a series (the ending suggests it is)? Is this just supposed to be "Ben" and his story, and his assignment? Obviously he's not supposed to wonder about the motivations of the target, but what's starting to go on for him that this is becoming an issue? Or that his memories of the past are surfacing after years of being suppressed? If this is a one-off, those should have been addressed. If it's not...

ARC provided by publisher.

Sweet Salt Air; Barbara Delinsky

Sweet Salt AirSweet Salt Air by Barbara Delinsky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If this were set in Britian it'd be an AGA-saga, but I'm glad it was set in Maine. At times the Maine aspects got a little annoying (yes, they do say chowdah. let's move on.) but the story - while predictable - was well done and just the right things for the mood I was in when I read it.

Charlotte and Nicole were BFFs from age 8, but ten years ago something happened and that friendship has faded. Now there's an opportunity to blend their talents (Charlotte, a freelance journalist, plus Nicole, a food photographer/blogger, plus the island's amazing herbs/food equals a cookbook). Of course the Something will come up and play a major role in the plot. Of course there's tons of exposition about their lives prior to the book. Of course there's a predictable love affair. Of course both Charlotte and Nicole change, both in good ways. Of course it ends Happily Ever After.

This will make the perfect beach read.

ARC provided by publisher.

Confessions of a So-Called Middle Child; Maria T. Lennon

Confessions of a So-Called Middle ChildConfessions of a So-Called Middle Child by Maria T. Lennon
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

It's impossible to add spoilers to such a formulaic book - middle child, needing attention, acts out. Gets in trouble. Gets the opportunity to start over. Manages to do so. The end.

Usually I'm not so cranky about this type of book, because who doesn't want to remake themselves? We've all been there, and in middle school it often feels far worse than it really is. In this case, Charlie is as bad as portrayed and that's the problem. She's downright unlikeable and you need to like the character for this to work. I didn't find her humorous, but the author's attempts to not show Charlie as a bully, a mean child and one in need of help but rather as misunderstood, a fashionista, and normal don't work. Or, more accurately, didn't work for me.

ARC provided by publisher.

17 April 2013

How the Light Gets In; Louise Penny

How the Light Gets In (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #9)How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A satisfying return to Three Pines following the "vacation" in The Beautiful Mystery.

Gamache is at the end of his career: his department has been destroyed, Jean-Guy is hopelessly in Francour's thrall and addicted to the drugs he's being handed, and he's convinced someone is following/bugging him. His friend, Jerome Brunel (husband of Superintendent Therese Brunel) does some hacking, and discovers that there's something very, very scary going on. Intertwined with this is the investigation into the murder of Constance Pineault, one of the infamous Ouellet Quints. Luckily for Gamache, Constance was friendly with Myrna, owner of the Three Pines librarie, so he has an excuse to return to this town that captures his heart and mind.

The two stories are well told, even though I guessed the answer to the second early. Armand and Jean-Guy's relationship is one of the great ones, and the pain both feel after the events of the last book is so real. More interesting is the return of Yvette Nichol, the socially inept problem child that Gamache has tried to mentor and somewhat failed with over the years.

The ending seems like a natural close to the series, but I can see ways in which we can continue to visit these people and this village.

ARC provided by publisher.

William Shakespeare's Star Wars; Ian Doescher

William Shakespeare's Star WarsWilliam Shakespeare's Star Wars by Ian Doescher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well executed - sort of like the Bible in Klingon (which apparently exists). Definitely for the Star Wars geek, as well as those looking for an interesting way to rethink both classics. (oh, and the dialog? light years beyond Lucas' original. pun very much intended)

ARC provided by publisher.

Asylum; Madeleine Roux

AsylumAsylum by Madeleine Roux
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great creep factor!

Dan is a former foster child with no idea of his birth parents or background. He's in a good home now, adopted by nice parents, and this summer he's heading to NHC for a high school/college prep class where he hopes he'll make friends. His roommate, Felix, is ok but not great friend material, but Abby and Jordan? Definitely going to be BFFs. The only problem is that their dorm is a former insane asylum... and we all know what that means. Nightmares. Unexplained happenings. Mysterious messages and photos.

The text is intercut with a lot of photos and copies of the journals, definitely adding to the sense that there's something Not Quite Right. As Dan delves into the history and what happened, we learn along with him. There's a lot that could have been added, but leaving out just enough helped.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Broken Places; Ace Atkins

The Broken PlacesThe Broken Places by Ace Atkins
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Set in Mississippi, this series follows former Army/local boy/now sheriff Quinn as he tries to corral his family and keep the peace. In this episode, his sister Caddy has taken up with a former convict, Jamey Dixon, (officially pardoned by the governor) who Found God and is establishing a church in town. Complicating this is a breakout from the prison, and the escapees are looking for Dixon because their leader shared information with his about a sunken Wells Fargo truck carrying a lot of money. Quinn has to find the escapees, who are on quite the spree, and protect his family. Being Mississippi and summer, there's a tornado to contend with - I suspect the clean-up from that will feature in the next book.

Is Dixon really "holy" now? Which side is Suggs on? Will Quinn get his men, or will they escape, or something else? And what about Quinn's complicated love life? Those questions - and more - are answered, albeit not cleanly, by the end.

The language is raw, the action rough, and the characters complicated. For some, this will be an addictive series. For me, however, one will be enough.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Glitter Trap; Barbara Brauner

Oh My Godmother: The Glitter TrapOh My Godmother: The Glitter Trap by Barbara Brauner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cute - the type of book that will appeal to girls (and those mothers worried about "content"). This first book in the series sets up what I'm guessing is the premise: ordinary, not-popular girl runs into a fairy godmother, does magic, everyone learns lessons, fairy godmother disappears.

In this case, the "running into" is more "fairy godmother flies into the glitter-glued hair", and boy is she cranky! This is not your traditional sweet, understanding, helpful fairy godmother. No, Katatina is more concerned with being demoted and fulfilling her mission with Paige than helping Lacey with her problems. It's almost impossible to spoiler a book like this, because you know the ending will be a happy one. ARC provided by publisher.

15 April 2013

The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail; Richard Peck

The Mouse with the Question Mark TailThe Mouse with the Question Mark Tail by Richard Peck
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Perfectly competent animal-historical fiction, with more emphasis on the animal and less on the history.

Our hero is at times "Nameless", "Runt" or "Mouse Minor", a small mouse of unknown parentage raised in the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace. He has an ordinary mouse life, albeit one filled with beatings by larger mice (in part because while small of stature, he's large of mouth). One day it gets to be too much and he runs away and there the fun begins. He's seen by a Princess of the Realm, is befriended by a Peg, a horse, becomes a Yeomouse of the Guard and kidnapped (mousenapped?) by bats. And that's only part of the two day trek from "Nameless" to... no, I won't spoil this.

More of the history (of the Palace, or the era, which is Victorian) would have been nice but the target audience won't miss any of that.

ARC provided by publisher.

Sisterland; Curtis Sittenfeld

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Perhaps I just expect more from Curtis Sittenfeld, but this read like an American version of an Aga-saga. The focus on Daisy and Violet, their childhood, and Daisy's (now Kate's) adult choices held no surprises, and the writing wasn't particularly inspired. At times I felt like checking the cover to ensure it truly was Sittenfeld, rather than, say, Joanna Trollope.

Daisy and Violet are twins, identical and possessing "senses" that make them somewhat psychic. As they age, Daisy feels pulled in a different direction: she goes to college, has long-term relationships, marries, and ultimately gives up her name (changing to Kate and taking her husband's name) in an attempt to distance herself from her past. Violet never completes college, has no serious relationships and embraces her psychic side. Beyond that, there's the distant father and mother for them to contend with. And then there's Kate's husband and their BFF couple friends, Hank and Courtney. Nothing new here, nothing different from many other contemporary fiction books.

That's not to say this is a bad book, or poorly written. Just that I somehow expected more and left disappointed.

ARC provided by publisher.

13 April 2013

The Summer of Dead Toys; Toni Hill

The Summer of Dead ToysThe Summer of Dead Toys by Toni Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When reading a work in translation there's always the question of "did the translator do a good job of conveying the author's original meaning?" In this case, the answer is an emphatic "yes" because the author is the translator. A few things were a little unclear (a derogatory term not familiar to non-Spanish speakers, the festival of San Juan) but beyond that... This is the second in the Salgado series, but for some reason seems to be the first in translation. It doesn't matter, in that many of the events of the first are referred to in large expository passages (the reason for the four stars, as some of that could have been glossed over; on the other hand, it may have been inserted because the first book hasn't been made available to American audiences) - and those events do matter!

There are two threads here, one that remains unresolved at the end and, I'm guessing, will play a role in the next books. That thread is the carry-over, involving Hector's brutal beating of an African doctor suspected of involvement in a child-trafficking ring that brought young African girls to Spain for sexual slavery and kept them quiet via voodoo. Hector's back from a "vacation" in Argentina, and while not suspended he's certainly being asked to keep his head down. So he's assigned what should be a quick query into the suicide/accidental death of a young man on San Juan. As readers of mysteries all know, those "just take a quick look... it's only to pacify a member of the family but it's an open/shut case" are never as easy as promised. Hence the reference to a long-ago summer, one that ended with dead toys.

Never having been to Barcelona, this was a great way to be introduced to the city. Hill captures the atmosphere well, even as some of the phrases referring to the summer heat and humidity got repetitive. Hector Salgado is definitely a detective I'll want to spend more time with.

ARC provided by publisher.

11 April 2013

Game; Barry Lyga

Game (Jasper Dent, #2)Game by Barry Lyga
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While I spend a lot of time railing against the seriesification (that's not a word? tough!) of YA lit, for Jasper Dent? More, please!

Lyga's I Hunt Killers was the start of a series, and here we have Jazz, mere months from 18 (when he would no longer have to worry about being removed from his grandmother's house) and just trying to make it through senior year of high school. Then the NYPD asks for his help with the Hat-Dog Killer... can he use his lifelong indoctrination in how to be a serial killer to catch another one? Of course he can. Jazz sees things in the photos and at the crime/murder/dump scene that the police and FBI have missed, all while hearing his father's voice telling him he, too, could be a serial killer.

His girlfriend Connie gets involved, as does his BFF, Howie. Grandma is still crazy, and we're introduced to Jazz' aunt/Billy's sister, long vanished from the family in an attempt to separate herself from the media and madness surrounding being "Billy the Kid's" sister. Even better (for me) was the setting, my old nabe in Brooklyn.

Unlike the plethora of paranormal series out there, I can't think of another YA character like Jazz. On tv, however, there are more than enough "read-alikes", so I can cozy up to reruns while I wait for the next book.

ARC provided by publisher.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea; April Genevieve Tucholke

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (Between, #1)Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Another paranormal series? Why???

We're in rural Maine, a town called Echo, with one Italian family (that run the coffee shop and the Italian restaurant) and two dilapidated mansions that belonged the rich families. One family, the Glenships, has left the area, the other, the Whites, still lives in "Citizen Kane", albeit in reduced circumstances. Currently, Citizen is occupied by Luke and Violet while their parents paint their way through Europe; in need of cash, Violet rents out their guest house to River. And then the fun starts: the Devil is seen in a graveyard, a young girl disappears (but turns out to have been staying in the treehouse on the Glenship estate. Even more strange things happen, and it becomes clear that they're centered around River... but how?

Here's the problem: the level of horror or creepiness doesn't ever climb high enough. The relationship between Luke and Violet is nothing special, you never get the sense that Violet and Sunshine are real friends, although we're told that they are, and Violet's infatuation with River just felt a little off somehow (beyond what the plot says it should be). What happens in Echo is supposed to somehow be the work of the Devil, and perhaps tied in to events from the past - or at least people from the past - but there's no sense of urgency here. Even Violet's search for her grandmother's letters (or diaries, or something that would in a way bring her back)is muted.

My guess? If the books in the series were condensed, edited into one stand-alone, the gothic horror would have been ratcheted up to the level needed. It's like the author took the creepiness of Rebecca or a Victoria Holt and stretched it too thin in order to fit the needs of a series. Less would have been so much more.

ARC provided by publisher.

10 April 2013

Golden Boy; Tara Sullivan

Golden BoyGolden Boy by Tara Sullivan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A disturbing book about the hunting of people (specifically albinos) in Africa because their body parts bring "luck". There are all manner of superstitions about luck charms out there, from four-leaf clovers to rabbit's feet to rhino horns to this one, apparently prevalent in Tanzania. Life's not difficult enough for Habo as an albino (living in Africa with a body unsuited to that much sun and poor vision in addition to poverty) in his village - his family is evicted from their home and they trek to Mwanza, where his mother's sister lives. It's there he learns that albinos are more than merely odd: they bring good luck, particularly their hands and legs. Fleeing for his life, he ends up in Dar es Salaam, living with a blind sculptor and starting to make friends with the sculptor's great-niece. Of course, trouble follows him there.

For me, the problem was the one of the Issue (albino hunting) being squashed into the story. That rarely leads to a good story being told, as the Issue has to continually be referenced and railed against, sometimes to the detriment of the plot. That's not as bad here as it's been in other books, because Habo does stand out as a person. Still, it did intrude enough to drop this from what could have been a higher rating.

ARC provided by publisher.

I'll Be Seeing You; Suzanne Hayes Palmieri

I'll Be Seeing YouI'll Be Seeing You by Suzanne Hayes Palmieri
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's obvious why this is being compared to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (which I loved) because it's an epistolary novel set during WWII. The difference is that this one is set in the US, and the pretext that starts the book is a woman whose husband is fighting has reached out to another in her situation (something set up by a women's group? the USO? that part's unclear). There's little here that deals with culture, unless one considers wartime recipes culture.

The mere fact that these two women have husbands at war is enough to get the conversation going, but it's definitely one of those relationships that would not have existed otherwise, as Rita and Glory not only live far apart but inhabit very different lives (only towards the last half do we learn Glory's maiden name, one that resonates in American history at an 'elite' name). Despite that, the two become very, very close, sharing their deepest thoughts and secrets, hopes and fears. While much of what they talk about is mundane - for example, Rita asking Glory's son Robbie to draw something for her window - there are moments of real emotion that will grab the reader. And then there are the recipes, some of which I want to try now!

What dropped this from a 5 star was that at times there was a whiff of "what else can we put in that highlights their differences, the era and 'modern' issues" about the letters, and the voices didn't sound all that different (unlike the voices in Guernsey).

ARC provided by publisher.

08 April 2013

The Last Summer of the Camperdowns; Elizabeth Kelly

The Last Summer of the CamperdownsThe Last Summer of the Camperdowns by Elizabeth Kelly
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Such a great idea: a near-teen see something she shouldn't, is too scared to tell (and convinces herself that she hasn't seen anything, really), but ultimately has to confront the horror. Meanwhile, family secrets are being revealed and lives being upended. Sadly, the overwrought, overly arch writing made this a difficult read (I was able to actually skip chunks and still follow the plot easily).

Riddle James Camperdown (named after Jimmy Riddle Hoffa) lives one of those genteely impoverished lives, with a servant and horses, on Cape Cod. Her father is running for Congress, disgusted by what's happening in Vietnam and with Watergate and unions, while her mother is a former actress who's trying too hard to sound like something from a Bette Davis or Katherine Hepburn movie. Mom, Dad, the man who owns the estate next door (named Ginger, nicknamed Gin) and Michael Devlin were all friends as children, but as adults Dad and Michael aren't speaking, Michael jilted Mom at the altar (pre-marriage to Dad), and Gin's just been there. Why the friendships and engagements failed has implications for today ("today" being the 1970s) and All Comes Out during the book.

As I said, great premise but bad execution. Sentences like "skin so fair you could see the blood boil" don't make me want to keep on reading.

ARC provided by publisher.

Another Little Piece; Kate Karyus Quinn

Another Little PieceAnother Little Piece by Kate Karyus Quinn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Years ago there was a boy who wanted revenge for something and was granted the ability to have it for eternity. How? He moves from body to body, taking revenge. At some point, he becomes lonely and convinces a girl to join him (she doesn't get revenge, she gets a love curse) and together they move through history, spending a year or two in a body and then moving on (the "moving on" process is pretty gruesome).

A year ago at a party, Annaliese Rose Gordon emerged from the woods bloody and screaming. Then she disappeared. Suddenly she reappears in Texas, with no memory of who she is and where she's from. Ordinary things she remembers, but her life? Sadly, no. Still, she returns home to her parents in suburban Buffalo and begins to resume her life. Waiting for her have been Logan, the boy she was with at the party (even though he had a girlfriend at the time), Gwen, her best friend (who is strangely distant) and Dex, the weird boy next door. Slowly she pieces together what happened... and no more because that'd be a spoiler.

The loss of a star was because at times it was a little confusing keeping the various points-of-view separate. The voices all sounded the same, and with no other clues (change of font, date stamp, etc.) it could take a moment - or more - to figure out if we were Anna, Annaliese or someone else. The link between the brujas and the Physician was never quite clear, which would have helped. Finally, the ending was also a little unclear (to explain further would again be too spoilery).

Still, this is one of those reads that keeps you interested and reading despite perhaps having other things to do. What happened to Annaliese, and Anna, and how? Will she end up with Dex or Logan or someone else? Who is the Physician? And finally, do Annaliese's parents and friends believe that this is Annaliese, or is this someone/something else?

ARC provided by publisher.

06 April 2013

Otis Dooda; Ellen Potter

Otis Dooda: Strange but TrueOtis Dooda: Strange but True by Ellen Potter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Poor Otis, cursed first with a bad name, then by Potted Plant Guy. This is serious Wimpy Kid territory, filled with an interesting cast of characters and situations (the building's "newsletter" is pretty funny). Otis himself is at times definitely a kid and at others preternaturally capable of adult wit. This will definitely appeal to the boys who love Wimpy Kid and David Lubar.

ARC provided by publisher.

Sky on Fire; Emmy Laybourne

Sky on Fire (Monument 14, #2)Sky on Fire by Emmy Laybourne
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Not having read the first book, having exposition via "letter to whomever reads this because I'm dead" was an interesting way to catch up. Sadly, for me, the book went downhill from there. Apparently the author is an actress/playwright and that may explain why this felt less like a book and more like a potential tv series.

The "Monmument 14" (14 kids who find shelter in a grocery store following a nuclear accident) have split up, with most taking a school bus to what they hope will be safety at Denver International Airport and the rest staying at the store. As a result, the POV changes chapter by chapter. First we hear from Alex, on the bus, then we hear from his older brother Dean, at the store. Their adventures/misadventures, fears and hopes are all laid out for us, as well as what's going on with their companions. Will they reach shelter/be rescued in time? Stay tuned for the next episode...

ARC provided by publisher.

05 April 2013

The Testing; Joelle Charbonneau

The Testing (The Testing, #1)The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For once, the blurbage doesn't lie: this is definitely a Hunger Games-alike, right down to candidates from districtscolonies competingbeing Tested. Cia is our Katniss here, albeit one from an intact family; Peeta and Gale here are Tomas and Will, one from her colony and one met during the Testing. It's clear that there's something very wrong with the Tests, where the penalty for a mistake is death, but Cia's natural smarts and a few helpful hints get her (and her friends) through. Then there's the Fourth Test, which is so very like the Hunger Games in that the competitors are encouraged to kill each other to ensure they get into the University (You thought the SATs and APs were hard? Nope, all this is essentially a college entrance exam).

Of course, the question of how things are being manipulated, why the Tests are so lethal, and how exactly these people will make it through to the end (of the book and the series) - if they'll make it to the end - are all raised and to some extent answered in ways that felt like déjà lu. With any luck, the second book will take us out of such familiar territory and explore something new. Those people who can't get enough of the Hunger Games/Legend/Divergent genre will love this addition.

ARC provided by publisher.

04 April 2013

A Spear of Summer Grass; Deanna Raybourn

A Spear of Summer GrassA Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

At first, I thought this was going to be too light weight, too similar to everything "Downton" (and not doing it as well as Waugh did). Yet a few chapters in I found myself changing my mind slightly. Our Herione has surprising depths (and self-awareness), however Our Hero is stereotypical of the macho men in a bodice ripper. The life that Delilah is forced to leave in Paris and London and take up in Kenya is also a lesser version of what other authors have done better... however, that doesn't matter as much as one would think (except for when a character expresses ideas that are politically correct for today, virtually blasphemous back then): the local tribesmen have value, female circumcision is bad, we need to conserve our wild animals, etc., when it got a little annoying.

So not a deep read, but perfectly pleasant.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Black Country; Alex Grecian

The Black Country (The Murder Squad #2)The Black Country by Alex Grecian
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We're in the era of Jack the Ripper, but not in London. Instead, London Detective Day (along with Constable Hammersmith and forensic pathologist Dr. Kingsley), of the Murder Squad has been asked to come to a mining town in the British Midlands to help investigate a missing family (well, part of the family: father, mother and one son). Once there, they learn that the town is rife with superstitions, a sudden epidemic that is taxing the local doctor's abilities, and tunnels that are literally causing houses to sink. Their search is aided by a semi-mysterious man who served in the American Civil War and returned home to Britain, fell in love and served time for killing a man. And the remaining children of the missing father and mother? They seem more interested in confusing matters than finding their step-mother and step-brother.

This is incredibly atmospheric, with the dangers of living in a mining town built atop tunnels mimicking the crumbling way of life for these people. The villains are not that difficult to spot (we even follow one's thoughts as he tracks his prey) but there are twists that make it interesting.

A series to look out for!

ARC provided by publisher.

02 April 2013

The Circle; Mats Strandberg

The Circle (The Engelsfors Trilogy, #1)The Circle by Mats Strandberg
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Long. Far too much going on, with too much padding/filler. Did I mention long?

The good stuff is that there is the Chosen One, only it's not really One it's Seven. They're called together after one of them dies (suicide? murder?) and start to learn their destiny. The problem, well, one problem anyway, is that their guide is somewhat confused and doesn't know what he's doing or why he's there: he just knows he's supposed to guide them. Another problem? Even though they're "Chosen", they don't like each other and don't want to work together.

Eventually they do start to - very grudgingly - work together and they learn that the person they think is responsible for the deaths of two of their members is actually a member of the Council (seriously less effective than Buffy's Council, and as a leader/teacher/guide not a worthy heir to Giles). Interspersed with this is a lot of digression into their daily lives, their relationships, their school and how run down their town, Engelsfors, is.

After such great Swedish horror as Let The Right One In and the mysteries of Nesbo and Lackburg, I was very disappointed in the rambling, the lack of focus and padding. There's a great core here but the rest makes it difficult to enjoy fully.

ARC provided by publisher.

01 April 2013

The Eternity Cure, Julie Kagawa

The Eternity Cure (Blood of Eden, #2)The Eternity Cure by Julie Kagawa
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A continuation of the story started in The Immortal Rules, and we all know how I feel about series. I still think that with some tightening up, this could be possibly two books. But clearly the publishing industry and I don't think the same.

Anyway, here were have Allison searching for Kanin and following his trace to Old D.C. (the description of the Lincoln Memorial is interesting). Turns out it's not Kanin, it's Jackel and the two of them team up to find first the D.C. lab (centered around a nest of rabids) and then Kanin and Sarren. Their search leads them back to New Covington, where things have gotten worse. I won't go any further to avoid spoilers.

The marriage of dystopia and vampires is done well, albeit with the necessary suspension of disbelief. Example? At one point, in DC they come across a tube leading down that is clearly an elevator shaft -- Allison doesn't know what it is. Yet in New Covington, she does know what an elevator is. And then there's the Jeep that they manage to commandeer. Where did the gas come from? Ignore those questions and the padding and you've got an interesting story.

ARC provided by publisher.