30 May 2013

Cold Feet, Karen Pullen

Cold FeetCold Feet by Karen Pullen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of those procedural/cozy blends, which misses out on the best parts of both.

Stella Lavender is recovering from her recent break-up with her unfaithful boyfriend, so looking forward to attending a Scots-based wedding at a local B&B. It's also a respite from her work as a drug buyer gathering evidence for the DEA. As so often happens in these books, there's a murder - the bride. Because she's on-site, Stella starts to help with the investigation and manages to get herself seconded officially. There's one big twist to the murder, and another one in the drug investigation. And (no big surprise) Stella is essential to the solving of both. Had this concentrated on one or the other, this might have been a better read.

ARC provided by publisher.

29 May 2013

Maybe Tonight; Bridie Clark

Maybe Tonight?Maybe Tonight? by Bridie Clark
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I suppose creating a "choose your own adventure"-type book for teens is a good idea - they just weren't my favorite when they first came out, probably because I like more linear stories.

The plot is pretty simple: "you" are a girl from poor background somehow gets accepted to The Most Prestigious Prep School in America (without an interview or campus visit? unlikely, but this is fiction, so...) and is roommates with three girls who will clearly be the leaders of the school as seniors. There's an illegal, after hours party in the woods and thus the adventure commences. Do you go to the party? Do you go after your BFF's boyfriend? Do you go to the diner with the dweeby guy (who happens to have a movie star cousin)? etc..

The different storylines don't end up in the same place, which was nice, but they don't all flow together either. I wonder if they'd been written first, then chopped up poorly because some transitions didn't quite work.

ARC provided by publisher.

28 May 2013

Mother, Mother; Koren Zailckas

Mother, Mother: A NovelMother, Mother: A Novel by Koren Zailckas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are mothers, and then there are mothers. Josephine falls into the latter category, but it takes us quite a while to figure that out.

Her story is told through the dual viewpoints of Violet and Will, two of her children. Violet and some friends took seeds, which caused hallucinations and, at some point, Violet attacked her brother, leading her parents no choice but to take her to the local psych ward (her bad trip was probably aided by her following the Jain practice of sallekhana, or fasting unto death). We see her trying to come to grips with what she did - if she actually did it - and her older sister Rose's running away from home, her mother's controlling nature and her father's alcoholism. Will is recovering from his sister's attack, as well as dealing with a late-onset Aspergers and epilepsy that led to being homeschooled. His relationship with his mother is far more complicated, by turns overly connected and somewhat suspicious. Josephine herself reminded me of those Southern Gothic mothers, only living in semi-upstate New York (Kingston and Stone Ridge do not qualify as "real" upstate).

There was a slight horror/suspense quality here, but overall the story was more V.C. Andrews-esque than real horror/suspense. At times both Will and Violet's voices were not just preternaturally adult, they were unbelievably adult (example, the part when Will, who has been rather sheltered, thinks about life in boarding school) - perhaps those passages were supposed to have been written from the perspective of several years? It was also disappointing that we ended with less of Will. His journey was more interesting to me and his end was least explored.

ARC provided by publisher.

27 May 2013

The Last Winter of Dani Lancing; Phil Viner

The Last Winter of Dani Lancing: A NovelThe Last Winter of Dani Lancing: A Novel by Phil Viner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Actually, this was a little more like a 4.5, but still - very close to five. It's not quite a mystery, not quite suspense, in much the same way Reconstructing Amelia is.

Readers need to pay close attention to timeframes and voice here: we travel back 20 years to when Dani was alive, then to 2010 when she's dead and her parents are still mourning/trying to find out who killed her. We also hear from Tom (former BFF/possible boyfriend, now "The Sad Man" and a Detective Superintendent), Jim (her father), Patty (her mother) and a few others. And Dani appears, not quite in a The Lovely Bones-esque way, but more a manifestation of her father's need to have her in his life (there's no look at the afterlife, nor is she watching over the investigation).

The pacing here works well, with moments of action spaced out between reflection on the past and What Happened and Why. The What Happened seems to be clearcut, but there are surprises along the way. As for the Why, well, that'd be spoiler territory. At times it occasionally felt as there was a little too much coincidence or twisting but as those moments unfolded I rethought that. It was also nice to see that some of the obvious conclusions turn out to not be quite so obvious. Overall, what's sticking with me is the question of what grief and love can do to people, and what lengths people will go to to preserve love.

ARC provided by publisher.

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26 May 2013

The Girl You Left Behind; Jojo Moyes

The Girl You Left BehindThe Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An interesting blend of historical and current fiction, with a painting and art theft as the link.

I kept having to remind myself that the historical part was set in World War I, not II, because the story of the German occupation of France was so familiar from WWII books (just as was the train rides and work camps). The art theft in question(of the titular painting) from then is compared to the Nazi thefts and treated in much the same way, rousing the same passions.

To be honest, the historical part's familiarity was a large part of what cost it a star: excepting the time frame, there was nothing new here in how the village was isolated, starved, commandeered and terrorized by the Germans or how people who were forced to work with them were often accused of collaboration. The only interesting question (for me) was how far Sophie would go to be reunited with her husband. How the painting from that small village to Liv Halston's wall was more interesting and I wish we'd had more of the search for provenance, or of other cases that could be used as precedent.

One question that I wish Liv's attorneys had asked was why the Lefever family felt that the painting was theirs. It had been a gift from Edouard to his wife Sophie, so shouldn't Sophie's descendents rightfully own the painting? The case's conclusion was also a little reliant on a convenient coincidence.

ARC provided by publisher.

24 May 2013

The Tilted World; Tom Franklin

The Tilted WorldThe Tilted World by Tom Franklin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Historical fiction/romance set during Prohibition and the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927.

We have two stories that eventually intertwine: Dixie Clay (yes, that's really her name) married Jesse when she was really quite young, a marriage that isn't as satisfying as it could/should be as Jesse's a moonshiner and spends much time away from the house on "business" (which also includes time with women in whorehouses), and Ingersoll, a federal agent looking for moonshiners. We get their backstories as well as their present time, with Ingersoll looking for two agents who may have been killed and Dixie continuing to make some of the best moonshine around. Their first meeting comes about when Ingersoll and his partner Ham find a newly orphaned baby and (via a story twist) Ingersoll brings it to Dixie (who lost her son a year or so ago).

The description of what life must have been like at that time, fighting to keep your home with the threat of flood a constant (not to mention the endless, oppressive rain), was interesting. The methods used to battle the flood and the crest don't seem that removed from what we see today when there are major floods. Dixie's moonshining was also an interesting look at the process - her tweaks and flavors made what she was doing seem somehow less illegal and more experimental.

But ultimately it was the overwriting and the romance that didn't work for me. Sentences that could have been pared down were left filled with adjectives, and I didn't care enough about the characters for their relationships to matter to me.

ARC provided by publisher.

23 May 2013

The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress; Ariel Lawhon

The Wife, the Maid, and the MistressThe Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maybe I'm just really old... or really weird... but I've been interested in the Judge Crater disappearance since I was a kid (Lord Lucan, too, if that says anything). And now here's a historical supposal about what happened to him!

For those that don't know, Judge Joseph Force Crater was an Associate Justice for the NY Supreme Court during the days of Prohibition and - more important - Tammany Hall. His rise from attorney/law professor to judge was questionable and shortly before he was due to testify to the commission looking into legal corruption he disappeared. That's fact. Why and how he disappeared is open to question and interpretation: was he murdered? did he just vanish? who did it? This book tries to answer those questions, bringing together three of the women in his life (wife Stella, possible mistress Sally Ann, and "maid Maria", the only not-for-certain-historic person in the trio) along with some of the men and other characters known to have something to do with his life.

Historical fiction is always difficult to do well, but this is a good example. Famous people appear but in appropriate ways (Governor Rockefeller, for example, has a cameo) while prohibition and the world of speakeasies feel accurate. Because this is a supposal, I can't say I agree with the author's solution to the mystery but I don't know any rival theories that I'd agree with more.

ARC provided by publisher.

21 May 2013

Not a Drop to Drink; Mindy McGinnis

Not a Drop to Drink Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Future America, not dystopian but definitely an American With Problems. What problems? A severe lack of water - hoarded in cities, and for those outside the cities it's worth killing to keep.

Lynn has spent her entire life with her mother defending and protecting their home (where her mother's family lived for generations) because it's on a pond. Their days are spent on the roof, seeking trespassers (whom they shoot), collecting firewood, planting/reaping vegetables, hunting and sometimes scouting/looting abandoned homes for supplies. That changes when her mother dies, thanks to a coyote pack and a bad shot by Lynn trying to get the coyote's off. Suddenly she's alone... except she's not alone long, slowly making connections with her nearest neighbor and some newcomers.

The survival parts were really interesting, and some of the tips would help people looking to live a little more off the land. Lynn's slow journey from intense loner to caring for others made sense and didn't feel rushed or out of place. Even better, it's clear that the hard choices she makes are hard.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Bitter Kingdom; Rae Carson

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

Not a bad finale to the trilogy, but not wonderful, either. As with the other books, we have battles, talk about the Godstones, Elisa growing into her role as Queen, etc.. And, of course, there's a trek away from and back to Joya. The underground scenes reminded me of Lord of the Rings, which isn't new to me - for whatever reason, few writers do something new and different with mines and caverns.

Elisa's growth wasn't as great as I had hoped. That might be due to her being only 17, or because her real growth came in the first book (when she dropped all the weight and became more independent). She does continue to increase her diplomacy skills and her comfort level with her role in the grand political scheme of things also increases, but beyond that?

Still, as I said, not a bad conclusion and one that fans of the series will appreciate. Unless, of course, it isn't the end (I would have loved more on what the history of the Inviernos actually was - there are hints, but only that).

ARC provided by publisher.

19 May 2013

Help for the Haunted; John Searles

Help for the HauntedHelp for the Haunted by John Searles
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I so wanted this to be a four star book (or even a five) but I just couldn't round up.

"Help for the Haunted" is the title of a classified ad that Sylvie's father placed in a newspaper when he decided that he could, in fact, help those haunted by people and items - not necessarily performing exorcisms, but helping remove the haunted thing from the lives of the living. His wife was actually the more sensitive of the two, able to help people meditate to find a sense of peace that overcame their fears (her description of what she did). Together they were the Masons, somewhat famous for banishing haunted items like a hatchet or a large doll, or just helping troubled people. Sylvie and Rose, their daughters, on the other hand, are pretty normal kids; Rose starts to rebel in what seem to be normal, teenage girl ways but that has an outsized effect on their father.

Told partly in two-stage flashbacks (childhood and the previous winter) and present-day, we hear Sylvie puzzling out what happened one dark and stormy night (sorry - but sometimes the writing does sink to that level; not often, but occasionally) when her parents ended up dead, shot in a church. Trying to be the Good Daughter, Sylvie has identified the killer, but as his trial date grows closer she has doubts and really tries to learn the truth. Some of her search veers into the unbelievable, and I'm not talking about the haunted part. Let's just say a couple of major clues come about in ways that truly strain credulity (the trip to Rehobeth, for example). Hence the loss of stars. nd the ending? Not satisfying. I wanted more... something. It felt like the author ran out of ideas and just allowed the story to glide to a finish, when it's possible that some of the untied ends could have led to a little bit more.

ARC provided by publisher.

15 May 2013

After the Snow; S.D. Crockett

After the SnowAfter the Snow by S.D. Crockett
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Another DNF - racking up a lot of them recently.

Here's what I got in the first 75 pages: we're in a snow-filled future, it's unclear why. There's a Big Evil Government, who issue papers and Willo's family doesn't have them, so they can't hunt legally. They live in a hidden house, trading with their neighbor - getting ripped off because they're not legal. One day Willo returns home to discover everyone is gone (he blames the neighbor) and knows he has to leave. He packs a sled, heads out, and then meets up with a girl and her brother starving. By that point, I gave up.

Here's the thing: Willo is supposed to be in his mid-teens, yet his voice and skills seem to be that of someone much younger. The survival part is sketchy (My Side of the Mountain does it much better), as is what happened to this world. By the time we meet new characters, I didn't care.

Every Contact Leaves a Trace; Elanor Dymott

Every Contact Leaves a TraceEvery Contact Leaves a Trace by Elanor Dymott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So much promise here: unreliable narration, unlikeable characters, Oxford setting. But somehow, despite great writing style, it just misses the mark.

Rachel and Alex met as students at Oxford, had a summerlong fling, and then Rachel broke it off. Years later, at his BFF's wedding, they meet again and somehow end up engaged the next morning. A few months later, Rachel's head is bashed in at night during a visit the two of them take to their old college. Simple enough, right? The question, of course, is Who Killed Rachel and Why. That's where the unreliable part comes from. We hear one story from Harry, Rachel's former tutor, and another from Evie, her godmother who has a real hate on for Alex. Then there's Anthony's story, as told by Harry. While they all loosely mesh, it's clear that there's something Not Quite Right here, that there are layers still hidden. Alex, steeped in grief and not functioning well at work, tries to figure things out even as he is getting ready to go to New York to start his life over.

The biggest problem for me was not that Alex loved Rachel unconditionally (which we're told several times) but that he's so clueless. They knew each other in college, so how could he possibly be so unaware of what she was like? It didn't make sense. Neither did Evie's hate for him, not just post-Rachel's death but when they got married. And the ending? I'm all for ends being left loose, but the Big Clue seemed to be too convenient. Finally, the pacing. It took 200 pages to get really started with the story of What Happened - why?

ARC provided by publisher.

14 May 2013

Finding Oz; Evan I Schwartz

Finding Oz: How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American StoryFinding Oz: How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story by Evan I. Schwartz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Interesting, but slightly disappointing look at the life of L. Frank Baum. Interesting because we do learn a lot about how Baum's life of success and failure turned around with the publication of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and how his experiences were transformed in the book (example? the yellow brick road was likely inspired by the yellow brick road leading to the Peekskill Military Academy). I knew even less about his wife, Maud Gage, and her really impressive mother, Mathilda Josyln Gage, a feminist who should be as well known as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

The disappointing part was the writing, which often devolved into "we assume...", "it's likely that...", "he might have..." statements. The Oz era was also glossed over as we rushed from publication of the first book to Baum's death. For those of us who read more than just the Wizard, where his inspirations for places like Ev and characters like Jinjur came from would also be interesting. The importance of chickens is mentioned, but not Billina?

Night Film; Marisha Pessl

Night FilmNight Film by Marisha Pessl
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm hoping that some of my quibbles get corrected in the final edition, because otherwise this was a great read. What quibbles? An over-reliance on italics just because. Very annoying. And then there's the location of Hurley NY, which is in the Catskills, not the Adirondacks.

I did like this story of a man's obsession with finding out what happened to the daughter of the man he'd started to investigate, made some ill-considered comments about, and found himself disgraced and sued as a result. Scott McGrath has been following Stanislaw Cordova's career for years, mainly because Cordova is so very, very controversial. The line between real and movie-fakery is unclear in his films, taking viewers to a very dark place - so much so that his films have mostly been banned, shown only as "night films" in underground theaters. There's a mythology about Cordova, the films, The Peak (his 300 acre estate in the Adirondacks) and the actors who worked with him. When Ashley is found dead, Scott gets hints that it was not suicide but murder and sets out to investigate.

In a short amount of time he acquires to "helpers", Hopper (who met Ashley at a drug rehab work retreat) and Nora (former coat check girl at the Four Seasons, Ashley's last known location) and together they visit locations, interview people and generally try to unravel Ashley's last few days. For readers, the question of narrator reliability is critical: is Scott telling the truth? is anyone? what are the motivations for everyone involved? Even by the end, it's not clear if anyone is being honest, or what actually happened to Ashley. We have clues, but no clear answers - I love that!

It was also interesting to see that this isn't purely text. Intermixed with the narrative story are police reports, magazine articles, screenshots from websites and notes - these add so much to the feel of the book, as well as expand our experience of reading in interesting ways. While the author's website is currently relatively barren, it would be interesting to see if she (or the people running it) will add content that also expands on the book.

ARC provided by publisher.

12 May 2013

Broken; Karin Fossum

BrokenBroken by Karin Fossum
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Two stories here, one a rather Pirandello-esque conversation between the author and a character, the other the character's story. Alvar skips to the front of the character line, insisting that the author write about him, give him a name and purpose. He's a little shy and diffident, doesn't mean to interrupt but he's also quite insistent that he has something that makes him memorable. He's given a name, Alvar Eide, and a profession (he works in an art gallery) to go along with his self-contained, tidy, solo life. Then one day a girl walks into his gallery and his life, completely disrupting what he thinks his story should be. He even argues about it with his author!

This was supposed to be a suspense-filled book, but I didn't really see that. Alvar's life was really quite normal and his actions predictable, even the "surprise" ending. Having the addition of Alvar arguing, pleading and persuading his author to give him a life and story was far more interesting.

11 May 2013

In the After; Demitria Lunetta

 In the After In the After by Demitria Lunetta
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Yet another dystopia, this one set just After the big event (alien invasion) and going forward a few years. Our Heroine, unnamed for most of the book but called Amy, survives mostly because she's living in a house that has an electric fence powered by solar energy (dad was eco-conscious) and has learned to be very, very quiet. She adopts/saves Baby, a toddler, and together they scavenge for goods, speak in modified sign language and try to live in the After. Then they meet a girl who ultimately betrays them and their save haven, and while on the run they get captured by a group of humans living in what is supposed to be the only haven left. And as we all know from these types of books, that haven will be a mixture of safe and despotic, with jobs assigned (ditto relationships), etc..

For all the lack of imagination, this was interesting in the depiction of the life that Amy and Baby make as they try to survive. When they rejoin "society", Baby's reactions are the most real: her horror and discomfort at the noise these humans make, her wanting to be with people her own age and affinity for animals were all what one would expect of a 6-year-old in that situation. Amy's life, on the other hand, was predictable (and the intercuts to her in the Ward? thanks, but, well...)  And, sigh, it's a series.

ARC provided by publisher.

Night Terrors; Ashley Cardiff

Night Terrors: Sex, Dating, Puberty, and Other Alarming ThingsNight Terrors: Sex, Dating, Puberty, and Other Alarming Things by Ashley Cardiff
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This might have been a humorous account of the author's growing up and experiences with puberty and all that entails, but I failed to see it. Instead, this read like any other account, with what I'm guessing were supposed to be wry comments and truths that didn't really translate. The use of profanity and crudeness (the cousin-with-pencil episode, for example) weren't shocking, merely boring and didn't illuminate anything for me. A DNF.

ARC provided by publisher.

10 May 2013

The Suburban Strange; Nathan Kotecki

The Suburban StrangeThe Suburban Strange by Nathan Kotecki
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved The Secret History and at first this book seemed to mimic that: a group of self-selected students who have certain rituals and mannerisms that separate them from the rest of the student population. Celia is taken into their group (called the Rosary) and suddenly her year is transformed; her new friends change her demeanor, her wardrobe, her study habits and even help her get a part-time job. They're aloof and somewhat mysterious, interested in music like Cocteau Twins, Siouxie and the Banshees and Shriekback - in other words, different from the average teen.

That would have given this book a solid five star.

The difference between this and Tartt's book (besides being set in high school instead of college) is that there's a paranormal element going on. Here, the Kind and Unkind have some powers and Celia may be one of them (her new friend, Mariette, is Kind but not part of the Rosary). There's also the mysterious boy, Tomasi, who appears only at Diaboliques, the club that the Rosary go to on Friday nights. This element was less satisfying and cost the book a star. As paranormal books go, even ones that might be part of a series, this is better than average.

Love and Other Perishable Items; Laura Buzo

Love and Other Perishable ItemsLove and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When you're 15 and in love with an older (22-year-old) man, life isn't easy. That's the world of Amelia/Youngster, who's in love with Chris, her trainer at the local supermarket (she works a checkout register after school and on weekends).

From Amelia's POV, the world is filled with Chris. Her director-father is either not home or is angry, her mother always disappointed, her baby sister is cute and annoying, but at work there's Chris. There's also literature, and an odd English teacher who asks 10th graders to read The Bell Jar and The Feminine Mystique - both of which she discusses with Chris. Chris' POV, on the other hand, is filled with alcohol, his friends, parties, the women with whom he's obsessed, his uni studies and only occasionally the youngster, Amelia, at work.

This is a relatively sweet look at that first major crush, the obsession and hopes for everything working out. Having both Amelia and Chris speak for themselves worked well here, with the voices different enough to feel very real; it also helps that the crusher and crushee experiences were so well written.

09 May 2013

The Doll; Taylor Stevens

The Doll (Vanessa Michael Munroe, #3)The Doll by Taylor Stevens
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The previous book actually raised some interesting questions about joining a cult, while this one, which could have raised equally interesting questions about human trafficking chose to stay with the violence and mystery behind Michael's life. As a result, I was less impressed with this one. We get a lot of clues into her back story, more than in the previous book, which supposedly explain how she got to be the way she is. We're also told - repeatedly - that she has some weird wiring in her brain that makes it easy for her to learn languages (Hungarian is the new one). Understanding her and her motivations doesn't really help make her likable or interesting, sadly.

The plot revolves around the Doll Man's kidnapping of Neeva, an up-and-coming starlet who just happens to be the daughter of two prominent people, who, coincidentally have hired Michael to find their missing daughter. He also kidnaps Michael and brings her to Europe to ensure that Neeva is delivered to her buyer; Logan, one of Michael's closest friends, is kidnapped and tortured to ensure that Michael behaves. Of course, things don't go according to plan. Back in the States, Bradford is doing what he can to help her - and chaos and death ensue.

Neeva never felt like a real character, and the others are expendable. What interest I had in Michael (or Essa... Vanessa... etc.) was lost in the thriller formula.

ARC provided by publisher.

The City's Son; Tom Pollock

The City's Son (The Skyscraper Throne, #1)The City's Son by Tom Pollock
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked this version of Another London more than I liked Mielville's Un Lun Dun but not as much as Gaiman's Neverwhere. Perhaps what was missing was Gaiman's humor, because the world was certainly built well (albeit a little confusingly).

Beth is a graffiti artist, not interested in tagging as much as actual drawings; she gets expelled from school because she's drawn a rather insulting portrait of a teacher she particularly hates - the portrait is on school property, so it's not just insulting, it's vandalism. Her BFF, Pen, has given her up (the reasons become clear later) and her father has essentially checked out of life following her mother's death. So she has nowhere to go, no one to turn to and runs away... only to be nearly killed by a Railwraith, and then rescued by Filias Vitae (whom she soon calls Fil or Phyllis).

The world that Fil inhabits is the alternate world, with sodium streetlights fighting with white lights, barbed wire monsters, chemical waste turned to magical powers, the Mirrorstocracy and other strange denizens. This world could have been slightly less crowded and better explained, but it's certainly interesting! Beth and Fil team up to battle Reach, who is destroying London's streets and life with all the building (think Canary Warf).

Because this is the start to a series, the ending isn't quite as satisfying. That's not to say all story lines needed to be tied up, but the vagueness here was a little off-putting: not quite a cliffhanger, not quite an ending. Obviously we'll see Fil, Beth and Pen later. As for Dad, who finally comes out of his shell and starts to actually act like a father? My guess is he'll play a larger role in coming books.

08 May 2013

In the Body of the World; Eve Ensler

In the Body of the World: A MemoirIn the Body of the World: A Memoir by Eve Ensler
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I know there'll be a lot of "what is she thinking" comments about this review, because there is Much Love for this memoir. So here's why I couldn't really finish it - remember, this is one opinion, one reader. YMMV!

Whenever I read someone's memoir about their battle with cancer, I wonder why they wrote it: was this catharsis? is there something for others to learn from their story? did they get the book contract because they're famous? In this case, it's a famous person getting a cathartic release from writing; Ensler has made that her career touchstone, with her Vagina Monologues coming from her being raped and abused by her father. So there's the biggest problem for me, I didn't learn anything and didn't really care about this particular famous person's cancer.

Then there's the writing. Many blurbs and review talk about how honest and unflinching the writing is. That's possibly true. It's also elliptical writing, almost stream of consciousness, which I do not respond to in the same way I respond to more straightforward writing.

Ensler's referring to her causes (the Congo campaign and City of Joy) was interesting, and perhaps more of that would have kept me reading.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Dog Stars; Peter Heller

The Dog StarsThe Dog Stars by Peter Heller
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Just couldn't get into this adult dystopia: while it didn't really matter what had caused the collapse of society (a flu), the first 100 pages failed to interest me in terms of the people who survived. Somewhere on the jacket is a comment about how Hig (Our Hero) hears another voice on his pilot radio, but that must be further in the book than I read. Much time is taken up with his flights to get Coke, but why we don't get anything more on the people he also gives the Sprite to was puzzling. His friend/fellow survivor was just what you'd expect from one of these books, but again, he wasn't fleshed out to become a real person. The only thing that really got me in the pages I read was Hig's relationship with Jasper (his dog), but, well, that wasn't enough.

Montmorency on the Rocks; Eleanor Updale

Montmorency On The Rocks: Doctor, Aristocrat, Murderer? (Montmorency, #2)Montmorency On The Rocks: Doctor, Aristocrat, Murderer? by Eleanor Updale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Still fun, but not as much fun as the first Montmorency book. Maybe it was that the formula that worked so well in the first seemed to change a little more than was necessary for the second - why, for example, did we jump five years into the future and not follow Fox-Selwyn and Montmorency on their spy mission? Why did we have to have a drug addiction? That lessened my enjoyment considerably. Ditto our time on Tarimond - what did that have to do with Montmorency? Had we stayed in Scotland, interacting with the Scottish nobility and seeing how Montmorency/Scarper adapt there, it might have been better. Or ignored that altogether and stayed in London. Because of our travels, and the introduction of Dr. Farwcett as a main character, the London mystery got short shrift. Vi and Scarper would have been a great team, but that isn't allowed to flourish.

In short, too many locales, too many characters, less focus on Montmorency/Scarper led to a lesser book.

View all my reviews

A Half Forgotten Song; Katherine Webb

A Half Forgotten SongA Half Forgotten Song by Katherine Webb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not quite a solid four, but better than a three. For some reason, as I read this I kept thinking that I'd read something similar before. That's not to say that there weren't surprises or that it wasn't a good read, but that there was that niggle in my mind, that the plot (in general) wasn't new.

Anyway, Mitzy/Dimity is one of those wild children, ostracized by the people in her village because her mother is the town hedgewitch/whore (of course those two go together, right?). Wilf, a boy her age, seems to be the only one who will speak with her and defend her (somewhat). Then one day a new family moves in and Mitzy's life is changed. Delphine, a couple of years younger, becomes her only friend, while Elodie is a typical younger sister, jealous of anyone who takes attention away from her. And then there's Charles Aubrey, an artist who has a habit of painting the women he's having an affair with, and Celeste, a half-Berber beauty and mother of Delphine and Elodie. They take Mitzy into their home and, of course, the inevitable happens. With disastrous results for everyone.

Flash forward sixty or so years, and Charles is a celebrated artist who died too early (during WWII). Several of his paintings have sold for a lot of money, but not much is known about one of the subjects, Dennis. Zach is an artist (although he no longer draws) and gallery owner (who doesn't sell much), and his life is at one of those Big Crossroads. There's a rumor that he might be Charles' grandson (through an affair between the artist and his grandmother), and when he has an opportunity to write a book about Charles he goes to the village where the two may have met.

The intertwining of the story of Mitzy's time with the Aubrey household and Zach's quest to learn more (even interviewing an old, possibly starting on the road to dementia, Dimity) worked. So did how Dimity and the Aubreys interacted and how those relationships worked (or didn't). The Moroccan adventure was the biggest problem for me (I just couldn't see Celeste or Valentina, Dimity's mother, allowing it). And the modern day stuff wasn't as well written for me: I wanted more of Zach's life falling apart, more of his investigations into what happened rather than just dissolves into Dimity's memories. What redeemed this, and moved it from a 3 to a near 4, was the Big Reveal (although I do think that Zach wimps out at the very end).

ARC provided by publisher.

02 May 2013

Middle Ground; Katie Kacvinsky

Middle Ground (Awaken, #2)Middle Ground by Katie Kacvinsky
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Yes, another dystopian trilogy but this one actually poses some interesting questions and has a middle book that works as a stand-alone (I didn't know it was a series until I looked!).

Maddie's father was a principal at a school and for some reason has created Digital School, now mandated. For some reason (possibly explained in the first book) he feels that staying home, in a room filled with screens and interacting with teachers and other students virtually rather than face-to-face. Maddie, on the other hand, prefers the outdoors, face-to-face conversations and interactions. Hence the conflict between then. She also prefers "real" nightclubs and dancing to sitting in an expensive chair, wearing a Mind Reader and virtual glasses and thinking about dancing and chatting. All that rebellion also ties her to Justin, the leader of the anti-DS movement.

All that was really good - the questions about what limits we should put on technology, how important "real" vs "virtual" is, and what role the government should play in determining how protected and plugged in are. Where this lost ground was in the Detention Center and all the brainwashing that went on. There was a believability gap at times that wasn't easy to bridge.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Skull and the Nightingale; Michael Irwin

The Skull and the NightingaleThe Skull and the Nightingale by Michael Irwin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A little disappointing, to be honest: the psychological parts of this didn't quite rise to the level that the start of the book promised. Richard Fenwick, orphan dependent on the goodwill of his godfather, has just returned to London following a Grand Tour. Wondering what's next, he's asked (by the godfather) to stay in a boarding house and then to visit his godfather's country estate. While there, he's given his "mission" - to experience life, specifically the seedy, degraded side, and report back to his godfather, a man who feels less than able to experience that on his own.

This isn't quite an epistolary novel, as there are large stretches where Richard is acting without reporting. The letters themselves are interesting slices of Town life in the 18th century, but at times it felt like kitchen-sinking (oh! can't forget to put that in...). Richard's life outside the letters tries to make him a better, more thoughtful man than the letters allow him to be.

ARC provided by publisher.

Montmorency; Eleanor Updale

Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman? (Montmorency, #1)Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman? by Eleanor Updale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yes, I'm late to the party on this one. Still, better late than never, right?

The world of Victorian era London is the setting, but it's not as detailed and defined as it might have been. That's not a bad thing, because we have more time for the story of a nameless man, a thief, caught because he crashes through a skylight and is "rescued" by a doctor convinced he can heal this thief's wounds. While recuperating in prison, he learns more tricks of the trade and upon his release launches his plan: a dual life as a gentleman (Montmorency) and thief (Scarper). The blending of the two lives occasionally requires a suspension of disbelief, but it's interesting.

Also interesting is how Montmorency quickly learns to fit in with the upper class, passing as "one of them" (albeit one that comes from the country, not town-bred). His reaction to La Traviata was the perfect one for someone in his position. His new adventures with the foreign office should prove to be a lot of fun for readers.