28 November 2014

This Shattered World; Amie Kaufman

This Shattered World (Starbound, #2)This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

At first I thought that the problem was not fully understanding the world, that reading the first book would have helped but apparently this is a book set in the same world as the previous book, not a sequel. There was just no reason for me to care about the problems or the characters, nothing that felt new.


ARC provided by publisher.

The Spiritglass Charade; Colleen Gleason

The Spiritglass Charade (Stoker & Holmes, #2)The Spiritglass Charade by Colleen Gleason
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not quite sure how I feel about this mixture of Holmes and Stoker, daughters/family of the famous families, joining to solve crimes, or that this is set in a steampunk-eqsue world. At times the repetition of the various reputations and skills of the families was annoying (if you don't know that Stoker is a vampire hunter, or that Holmes is an observant detective, this isn't the series for you!). On the other hand, YA readers don't seem to be mystery fans so perhaps this will make them more interested?

As for the mystery itself, the plotting seems a bit off - slow, then too fast, then slow again. More of either the spiritualism (which Conan-Doyle was a big believer in) or the vampire stuff, but not at much of both would have worked far better.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Boy in the Black Suit; Jason Reynolds

The Boy in the Black SuitThe Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Grief takes many forms, and for Matt his grieving gets worked out while working at the local funeral parlor (his first choice got taken while he was dealing with the immediate aftermath of his mother's death, his second choice was... well... wrong). Life in Bed-Stuy is slightly better than the good old days of incessant violence, but it's clear that this is still a more down-and-out neighborhood than a middle class area. As Matt attends funerals, falls in love and generally moves on with his life, readers will recognize that no matter where you are, or who you are, there are generalities about being a recently bereft teen that transcend place.

ARC provided by publisher.

Love, Lucy; April Lindner

Love, LucyLove, Lucy by April Lindner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Once again, Lindner has updated and Americanized a classic (in this case, A Room with a View). However, unlike the other updates, this one might be less recognizable for readers. Instead, we get a European summer romance, kind of like Anna and the French Kiss and about as predictable. I foresee many happy teen romance readers!

ARC provided by publisher.

Aphrodite; George O'Connor

Aphrodite: Goddess of Love (Olympians, #6)Aphrodite: Goddess of Love by George O'Connor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Interesting that the author made Aphrodite darker skinned and darker haired than the "normal" vision we get of that goddess. Beyond that, the story is familiar enough that readers will know what's going on, yet still may want to read the source material for a more complete read. The family tree at the front will help!

Copy provided by publisher.

Ares; George O'Connor

Ares: Bringer of War (Olympians, #7)Ares: Bringer of War by George O'Connor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've said it before, I'm not a great fan of graphic novels (my mind just doesn't read that way) but... having said that... This isn't a bad version of the Trojan War, although one might argue that readers would need a deeper understanding of the source material to truly get the who and what of this version.

Copy provided by publisher.

The Next Wave; Elizabeth Rusch

The Next Wave: The Quest to Harness the Power of the OceansThe Next Wave: The Quest to Harness the Power of the Oceans by Elizabeth Rusch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm giving this a 3 when it's really a 2.5; the information is scattered, with scientists disappearing for large portions of the book and then reappearing at random. It felt like some information was missing, or could have been added in to help younger readers understand the diagrams.

Copy provided by publisher.

Stone Cove Island; Suzanne Myers

Stone Cove IslandStone Cove Island by Suzanne Myers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very atmospheric setting, which made me feel a little generous (this really is a 3.5). I'm not sure this is a real mystery, more of a Cold Case and Dark Secret, although why what happened to Bess is such a secret is questionable. The romance between Eliza and Charlie was much more interesting, given the class questions (as well as their parents' tangled pasts).

And, once again, ignore the blurbage. There's nothing either Stepford Wives or Stephen King about this book.

ARC provided by publisher.

Chasing Cheetahs; Sy Montgomery

Chasing Cheetahs: The Race to Save Africa's Fastest CatChasing Cheetahs: The Race to Save Africa's Fastest Cat by Sy Montgomery
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Overall this is a good book, but there were moments when I wondered about the editing: it felt as though there were things left out that led to jumpy transitions, and the photos didn't always match the text (which meant hunting for the corresponding information). Still, the younger readers that are this series target will probably not notice and the information contained within will be valuable.

Copy provided by publisher.

Glamourpuss; Sarah Weeks

GlamourpussGlamourpuss by Sarah Weeks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So cute!

Glamourpuss and her self-centered life being interrupted by - gasp! - a dog could have led to serious lessons in humility and generosity. Luckily, that's not quite the case...

In an Antique Land; Amitav Ghosh

In an Antique Land: History in the Guise of a Traveler's TaleIn an Antique Land: History in the Guise of a Traveler's Tale by Amitav Ghosh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I forget what made me grab this book it an put it on Mt. Bookpile but whatever instinct that was, it was a good one!

This is an odd book, part history, part personal memoir, and the intertwining of the two doesn't always work well. Ghosh is intrigued by mention of a slave, an Indian owned by a Jew, Ben Yiju, some 700 years earlier; the scraps of information found in the Cairo Geniza provide tantalizing clues to the existence of both Ben Yiju and the man Ghosh eventually names Bomma, and his travels to Egypt and Mangalore help (somewhat) to fill in the blanks. It's hard to read this without spending time researching some of the places, people and events, making it a longer read than I anticipated.

The non-history part is about that author's time staying in Egypt, during the 1980s, in a couple of rather poor villages. The characters he meets are interesting, with a range of awareness about the outside world and modern times that is, at times, breathtaking. A The idea that one can travel from their village to Ghosh's Indian village by donkey? One would think that even in the 80s people would know that couldn't happen... but not here! It's also easier to understand the Indian problems between Hindus and Muslims once you hear what these Egyptians think of the Hindu religious practices.

A worthwhile read for the social history alone!

27 November 2014

Dietland; Sarai Walker

DietlandDietland by Sarai Walker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reading this made me think that the author had two stories she wanted to tell, and rather than flesh both out into separate stories decided to mesh them together. It doesn't really work.

The Dietland part of the story is the more interesting one, following the 300-plus pound Plum as she moves through self-loathing (and preparation for bariatric surgery) to some acceptance of who she is as she is. Her work as the "voice" of Kitty, her Brooklyn life and giving all that up as she emerges as a strong woman with a voice of her own is a journey I wanted to take with her. The Jennifer part of the story was more disturbing and detracted from the Dietland story. There were some very gratuitous parts (no spoilers, but you'll know when you read them) that made me seriously question where the author was going with all this, and what her friends/editors thought as they read them.

ARC provided by publisher.

15 November 2014

Acedia & Me; Kathleen Norris

Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's LifeAcedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life by Kathleen Norris
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not quite what I expected: the monks are mostly old (or, perhaps a better phrase is "historic") and the build up to the writer's life is very, very slow. The idea of acedia is old, but, as Norris explains, has become part of depression and thus somewhat lost its importance in our mental lexicon. Yet it's not depression, it's the inability to move forward, to do anything. How we respond to acedia, how we work through it, was what I was hoping for more of and would have been happier with less of the early Church fathers.

Just Call Me Superhero; Alina Bronsky

Just Call Me SuperheroJust Call Me Superhero by Alina Bronsky
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Read at your own risk: homophobia, an unlikable hero (definitely not a superhero) and such a slow build that after 100ish pages there's no reason to care about any one we've met.


The Language of Flowers; Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of FlowersThe Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reading this, it was easy to understand the love that reviewers had when it was first released. So why three stars? For me, there was something just a little off. Maybe it was that the story about girl-meets-boy but has Big Secret that keeps them apart seemed a little overdone, or maybe because I just couldn't believe that Victoria was only 18, perhaps 19, during the events here. There is a naivete there, but overall she seems to be older (and no, it's not because she grew up quickly in The System).

The language of flowers has always intrigued me, so reading about it and learning more was great. The bouquets Victoria creates and her belief that flowers are so powerful that they can change lives, is by far the best part of the book.

A Slender Thread; Katharine Davis

A Slender ThreadA Slender Thread by Katharine Davis
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The plot (two sisters, one overly involved with the other to the detriment of her romantic relationship, one with a degenerative brain disease) is rather ordinary, with brief flashes of something different. What was confusing was that Margot (younger sister) and Oliver (her boyfriend) are both artists, even though Margot currently works in a gallery not as an artist. Yet the chapter headings are all about weaving - and the glimpses of Lacey (older sister) working as a weaver are few and far between. Bad editing? Perhaps. And then there was the Big Reveal about Margot's Indiscretion. Unnecessary.

When Mr. Dog Bites; Brian Conaghan

When Mr. Dog BitesWhen Mr. Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Difficult to read: the language and the cultural references occasionally were distancing (example? do most American readers know who Dot Cotton is?). Still, thanks to watching EastEnders for years, PBS and BBCA I got most of them. The language, on the other hand... this is not for people easily offended by swear words.

Despite that, or perhaps because of it, I could easily see why USBBY honored the book. Dylan's life as someone with Tourette's, his relationships with his mother and friends, and his school experience were so realistic and well-drawn that you'd swear that you knew someone like him in real life. There's nothing magic here, nothing completely uplifting, no nice neat ending - just like real life.

Copy provided by publisher.

Murder, Plain and Simple; Isabella Alan

Murder, Plain and Simple (Amish Shop Quilt Mysteries #1)Murder, Plain and Simple by Isabella Alan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A little too long to be a cozy, and the sense of place isn't quite there - yes, this is Amish country, but surely that's more than a few German words, less use of technology and disapproval of English ways?

Angela wasn't raised Amish, but her visits to her aunt gave her some familiarity with the culture (as well as a former friend, JoJo, now a happily married man). So why there's little curiosity about the culture as an adult, and her inappropriate boundary crossing with JoJo, is a little puzzling. And then there's the quilting aspect, which should have been more prominent. The article at the end doesn't go far enough describing quilts and quilting, or patterns, and much of that information should have been sprinkled throughout the book for readers - waiting to the end just felt wrong.

Atlantia; Ally Condie

AtlantiaAtlantia by Ally Condie
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The good: this doesn't appear to be a series.

The meh: the plot. It's generic, with only the underwater setting to make it different from other books (books like City of Ember, for example).

And I had real hopes for better based on the excerpt I read.

Nuts to You; Lynne Rae Perkins

Nuts to YouNuts to You by Lynne Rae Perkins>
My rating: >3 of 5 stars

I've been a huge fan of Thornton W. Burgess' animal stories for years, and had hopes for this but... it misses. There's some charm, and the story of lost squirrels and friendship will amuse readers, but really? Find some Burgess. That's how it's done.

Sydney & Simon; Paul A. Reynolds

Sydney & Simon: Full Steam Ahead!Sydney & Simon: Full Steam Ahead! by Paul A. Reynolds
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Terribly didactic about STEM, with a little creativity in so it qualifies as STEAM - but will that bother the target readers? I rounded this up because who doesn't love mice, but I wonder if this will become a series, and if so, will it be bought because of the Message, or because the story works?

Once Upon an Alphabet; Oliver Jeffers

Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the LettersOnce Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters by Oliver Jeffers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lovely abecedary book, albeit one with a minimal connective thread. Can't wait to share this with young 'uns.

The Bone Clocks; David Mitchell

The Bone ClocksThe Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So much that was wonderful, but then... the supernatural stuff intervened and the wonderful became closer to "meh". The penultimate section really reads as though Mitchell just was making it up as he went along (yeah, I know how that sounds). But every thing he put in was minus any sense of description, it was mere words - the Script, the Immortals and Horologists, all the psychovoltaic stuff, nothing clearly defined for the reader. Now, that's not always a bad thing here but given that we're supposed to buy into all of this for about an eighth or so of the book, while the rest is "normal" fiction? More was needed for me to buy into that world and the overarching premise of this book.

ARC provided by publisher.

Denton Little's Deathdate; Lance Rubin

Denton Little's DeathdateDenton Little's Deathdate by Lance Rubin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not as humorous as The Wrap-Up List, but still interesting: Denton Little is an "early", someone who knows he'll die well before his time. So why go to school, or try to have a normal life? Denton doesn't have to, but he wants to... the bad part is that he's scheduled to die on the day of Prom. Society has evolved to a point where death is so ritualized, with funerals held with the dead present (and giving them the opportunity to respond/rebut), and the Death Day includes Sitting, with family, waiting for the inevitable. Except Denton doesn't want to be normal, he wants to live. Like any good teenage boy, he's going to rebel and break the conventional rules - even attending prom with his best friend and his parents.

I enjoyed the idea of the funeral, and Denton himself is likeable, but what dropped this was that in the end, it's fairly predictable.

ARC provided by publisher.

01 November 2014

Big Pumpkin; Erica Silverman

Big PumpkinBig Pumpkin by Erica Silverman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How do you know a book is a good book? When kids want it re-read. 'nuff said.

AlphaOops: H is for Halloween; Alethea Kontis

AlphaOops: H Is for HalloweenAlphaOops: H Is for Halloween by Alethea Kontis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love abecedary books - and this provided just the right Halloweeny touch. Perfect for reading to my preschoolers!

View all my reviews

If You Find This; Matthew Baker

If You Find ThisIf You Find This by Matthew Baker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The blurbs stating which book this is like miss one: Hans Brinker, if only for the family needing some hidden treasure to save them and a mysterious clue that leads them there. Nicholas' hunt, not just for the treasure (and a way to save his tree-brother) but for friends and a reunited family, will draw readers in. I'm not so sure about the musical notation, which seemed overused (and, in many cases veered outside notation into mere adjectives). Perhaps a little more math, a little less music, would have worked?

ARC provided by publisher.

Descent; Tim Johnston

Descent: A NovelDescent by Tim Johnston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A sister and brother go out for a morning run/bicycle and it all goes terribly, terribly wrong: he's hit by a car and badly injured, she disappears. Was it stalking? Incredibly unfortunate coincidence? Even by the end of the book readers won't be sure.

The biggest problem for me was knowing who was telling which part of the story (a problem that may not exist in the final, print version), and the POV shifted often enough that occasionally it took a few moments to get into that part of the story. How this family disintegrates following the disappearance of a member felt very real: what would happen if this happened to yours, or a family you know?

ARC provided by publisher.

The Terrible Two; Jory John

The Terrible TwoThe Terrible Two by Jory John
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've definitely read books like this before, but the target readers probably haven't which does make a difference. The pranks are good, and the twists are better. For me, the best part was the Barkin dynasty coupled with the combined Terrible Two's assault on order at the school.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Honest Truth; Dan Gemeinhart

The Honest TruthThe Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I did a double-take when I saw the suggested age group for this book: 8-12 years? Really? I'd hesitate to give this to anyone under 10, and it would take a relatively mature 10-11 to read this. The blurbage is comparing this to The Fault in Our Stars but I suspect that's because it's about a kid dying of cancer. Beyond that? This is a serious tear-jerker throughout, while TFIOS had moments of real humor and lightheartedness.

So no spoilers, but a sincere hope that the publishers rethink this as a middle-grade book.

ARC provided by publisher.

Hyde; Danie Levine

HydeHyde by Daniel Levine
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Usually I really enjoy reworkings or retellings from another POV of older stories, but this time? Not so much. The source material was a novella, so why did the author feel the need to create a much larger piece of work? Too much telling, in many places, too little letting the action speak for itself, and far too little allowing for our imaginations to do the work for us. As for the plot, the addition of Verlaine and how Dr. Jeckyll treated (or mistreated) him in Paris was actually interesting and might have been a better focus for the book, turning it into a creation story. The main story, with Hyde hiding from his - or Jeckyll's - servant and friend in a closet, doesn't always make sense: why did they wait so long to enter the room? The only plausible reason was so that this story could be told.

It probably didn't do the book any favors to reprint the original story in the back!

The Story of Land and Sea; Katy Simpson Smith

The Story of Land and Sea: A NovelThe Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Slight, and tried too hard to be atmospheric. There were times when more sense of place would have worked, for example when describing the town. The story itself was nothing new, with only the setting to really make it special.

ARC provided by publisher.

Close to the Bone; Stuart MacBride

Close to the Bone (Logan McRae, #8)Close to the Bone by Stuart MacBride
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Less stock-charactery than the last DI McRae, which is good. He's got good instincts, but OMG has he had a horrible life thus far (read previous books for that backstory). Like Rebus, his relationships with the seedier underside of Aberdeen's rulers both stands him in good stead and leads to serious problems - I can't wait to see how he resolves this!

The twists and turns of the story are a little unexpected, with the bundles of bones that are left around McRae's house (ok, caravan) leading to a much larger mystery. At times one wants the action to stop briefly so readers, and the characters, can catch their breath while at others the comic breaks (especially when Steele is around) just annoys. While the culprits are hinted at, there isn't so much telegraphing that it's easy to figure out whodunnit, which to me is the mark of a good mystery. It was good that we get far less "the weather in Aberdeen is crap" than in previous books!

My hope for the next book is less Steele, and more of McRae getting a grip on his life and future. Whichever direction that might lead.

So We Read On; Maureen Corrigan

So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It EnduresSo We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures by Maureen Corrigan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A definite must read for anyone who loved My Life in Middlemarch, The Great Gatsby or is fascinated by the Jazz Age and F. Scott/Zelda. This is slighter than Middlemarch but then, so is the source material: that's not a complaint or negative, just a statement of fact. And as with the original, this exploration does its job very well.

For so many of us, Gatsby is introduced in high school, during a time of teen angst and academic boredom with teachers who either are teaching to some mandated test/curriculum or doing deep dives and textual analysis. The author's argument is that so much of the book is missed then, that reading (or re-reading, or re-re-reading) later brings so much more to light and life.

Maybe I'll take her advice and re-read it myself one of these days.

ARC provided by publisher.

A Deadly Wandering; Matt Richtel

A Deadly WanderingA Deadly Wandering by Matt Richtel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Such a difficult book to read, particularly when cars fly down my street (despite the people crossing signs, speed bumps and low speed limit) and nearly half of the drivers are on their cell phones. A mere moment of inattention and people die; because the driver is so used to texting single handed, he doesn't even remember his actions.

This is the story of the first case regarding a texting-while-driving caused fatality, intertwined with the neurological, attention and other issues as studied by doctors and scientists. At times the interspersing of the information on how our brains work while multitasking detracted from the power of the story, at other times it's necessary to give us a little distance from the intensity.

So why the four? Too much backstory on the others (the lawyers and investigators) - while their motivations for pursuing were important, that level of detail wasn't quite as important.

Still, I'm considering giving copies to my numerous nieces and nephews of driving age (even those in their 30s).