31 January 2014

The Forbidden Stone; Tony Abbott

The Forbidden Stone (The Copernicus Legacy, #1)The Forbidden Stone by Tony Abbott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is clearly for fans of the 39 Clues series, those who have moved on to longer reads but still love the conspiracy serial motif. My prediction? In a few years they'll be Dan Brown fans.

A series of seemingly unrelated "accidents" around the world might be ignored, but the death (ok, murder) of Uncle Henry can't be. Soon Wade, step-brother Darrell, cousin Lily and her friend Becca and father Roald are off to Berlin ("city of spies") and then Italy, fleeing the mysterious Knights and decoding messages left in hidden crypts. Cliffhanger after cliffhanger ensues all leading to some device that Copernicus created... I think. That's what we know now, but later? We'll have to see.

ARC provided by publisher.

Enders; Lissa Price

Enders (Starters, #2)Enders by Lissa Price
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A two-parter, not a trilogy, which is nice; a dystopian society, which isn't. If you haven't read Starters, Enders won't make sense at first - the world the author has built isn't explained in the second novel. Callie as heroine is a little implausible, too; at times she's extremely savvy, but more often she's naive about people and places. What happened to those mad street smart skills she had? And the whole "find the Old Man" scenario wore thin, particularly given the number of people who have some tie (his son) to him. It should have ended sooner.

My guess is that fans of the first book won't care about those problems.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Scar Boys; Len Vlahos

The Scar BoysThe Scar Boys by Len Vlahos
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm being a little generous here - this should be 2.5 stars. The story was about a more adult Auggie Pullman from Wonder, a high school teen who was badly burned as a child and has a severely disfigured face. One day there's a friend, Johnny, and later, a band. A punk band that ultimately heads out on a tour of the South. Doesn't end well.

Here lie the problems: there's no reason for this to have been set in the 1970s, the device of having Harry write this as an admissions essay is less than successful because it's cute (or tries to be), and this is clearly all about the author instead of Harry or his problems. It seems that there is an audience for this book but I'm not among them.

Copy provided by publisher.

The Field; Tracy Richardson

The FieldThe Field by Tracy Richardson
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

So slow. So very very slow. Faster pacing might have given me reason to care about the lives of Eric, Renee and Will. But maybe not.

Copy provided by publisher.

Openly Straight; Bill Konigsberg

Openly StraightOpenly Straight by Bill Konigsberg
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What I loved about this was that it raised some interesting questions about the labels we have for ourselves and others, and whether you can avoid one by changing schools (or lives).

Rafe is openly gay, with hippy We're So Proud of Our Gay Son parents. He starts to wonder what it would be like to not be The Gay Guy but to be another guy, a jock, or a smart kid, or a reader or something - anything - else. He experiments with this by moving across country to a boarding school, all-boys, and trying to be one of the regular guys playing touch football and hanging out. No guesses how well that goes.

As I said, there are interesting questions asked. The answers are, sadly, a little trite and expected. A more daring read would have been a better book. Despite that, it's going into my all-girls school's collection.

Copy provided by publisher.

The Fury; Alexander Gordon Smith

The FuryThe Fury by Alexander Gordon Smith
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A multiple-POV book about a virus? an infestation? something that infects people, causing them to brutally attack others (not everyone, only a select few). The people we follow are the attacked, trying to find safety among the ruins of an amusement park.

For me, there were too many people to follow, too little exposition, and the pacing was off. It took forever for the group to gather and for anything to really happen: fewer characters might have led to a better read.

Copy provided by publisher.

19 January 2014

Tandem; Anna Jarzab

Tandem (Many-World, #1)Tandem by Anna Jarzab
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm a sucker for stories where people from one world go to another (du Maurier's House on the Strand, for example) but this was just a little too contrived to get more than a "like" from me. The problem was less with the world building than with the characters and the coincidences that cropped up (Lucas, in particular bothered me, with Dr. Moss a close second).

And - just being nitpicky here - the use of "analog" may confuse people. Yes, it's correct usage but it's also not one that people will connect with the doppelganger idea.

Copy provided by publisher.

Gods of the Steppe; Andrei Gelasimov

Gods of the SteppeGods of the Steppe by Andrei Gelasimov
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Very Russian - or perhaps Soviet is the better term? Set on the steppe, near the Chinese boarder, during World War II and very very bleak. I had to keep reminding myself that Petka was twelve, because he acted so much younger than that. And the aimlessness of the story around Petka's life just held no interest for me. Much more interesting was the history of the Japanese samurai clan from which Hirotaro is descended, but that was so outside the rest of the story that it didn't matter.

As the rating indicates, DNF.

Ex-Purgatory; Peter Clines

Ex-Purgatory (Ex-Heroes, #4)Ex-Purgatory by Peter Clines
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Zombies. Alternate histories. That's about all you need to know about this book. Oh, and the main character's name is George Bailey.

If you like all three, this is for you. For me, it was competent but didn't do anything to really WOW me.

ARC provided by publisher.

Orphan Train; Christina Baker Kline

Orphan TrainOrphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I so wanted to give this five stars, but there were a few things that made me rethink that rating:

- the treatment of Dina, because she's a conservative, fundamentalist Christian. The way she's depicted was without any redeeming quality (much the same as Kline treats the people in the first of Naimh's "homes"). In the case of the places Naimh stays, my hope is that Kline was trying to show how difficult the lives these children led once they got off the trains; the Depression didn't help, of course, but the cruelty that they experienced was more to be expected than kindness. But Molly's foster mother, Dina, seems to be hateful because of her beliefs, nothing more. And that bothered me.

- Vivian's sudden embrace of all things technological was too fast, too much. Her initial impression, that she wasn't missing much, was just fine. Why such a turn-around? It wasn't necessary.

- I hate ( hate ) the "if you're an orphan/adoptee you must find your 'real' family" motif. It's Oprah at her very worst and sends such a bad message to people who are quite frankly ok with not meeting their genetic family, not to mention those who have but have had a bad experience and are actually worse off for having met them.

None of this is to say that there aren't awful conservatives, or that every adoptee-finds-their-roots search ends badly, or that old people can't take to technology. But those felt shoehorned into a book already teeming with coincidences (was anyone surprised that Vivian was Naimh?) and lessened what could have been a very powerful book about the orphan trains.

Winger; Andrew Smith

WingerWinger by Andrew Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Part of me gets why this is receiving so much love from YMA award prognosticators, but I can also see the flaws here. In part it's the addition of the drawings, which, ok, could be mine (I'm a really horrible doodler/drawer) but even with that they're too young for the rest of the book. And then there's Winger himself - or Ryan Dean, or West, or whatever. I bought that he was younger than everyone, that he was talented, etc., but the relationship he's in with Annie felt forced (unless he's really much more mature and adult looking than he tells us/he thinks he is, or she's not as mature as we're told she is).

I won't get into the Big Ending because I'm not going to spoil the read for others, but there was a part of me, a large part, that thought it unnecessary. Leave the story with his growing up over the year, and the rest out. It would have been ok. And don't get me started on O-Hall and boarding schools. I work in one and the set up just was so... wrong. Seriously wrong.

So it's a generous 3 stars. More like 2.5.

Copy provided by publisher.

Almost English; Charlotte Mendelson

Almost EnglishAlmost English by Charlotte Mendelson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not fitting in a boarding school? Yeah, I can relate to that one. But the rest of this just felt a bit (ok, a lot) over the top: one of those books where you just want to shake the main characters and say "sit down and have a conversation" because the plot rests on them not actually conversing.

Marina's life both at home, with her Hungarian-refugee great aunts and grandmother, and at school, where she doesn't fit in, are painted realistically and that's what garnered this book so much praise. But she's not a likeable heroine, and not just because of those awkward teen things. It's almost as though Mendelson didn't like her and wanted to make that clear to readers. As for the ending, it's muddled (costing at least a star) and contrived.

03 January 2014

Daughters of Jerusalem; Charlotte Mendelson

Daughters of Jerusalem. Charlotte MendelsonDaughters of Jerusalem by Charlotte Mendelson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set in Oxford, this isn't quite an AGA-saga but it does qualify (for me) as a comfort read.

At times I wanted to shake Jean and tell her to actually pay attention to her daughter Eve; her preferred daughter, Phoebe is a complete horror but of course Jean never sees that. Then there's Jean's friend Helena, who discovers and confesses to a lesbian attraction to Jean, an attraction that Jean starts to reciprocate (but my guess is that she's responding more to the attention and affection than discovering her lesbian side). As Tolstoy says, "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." - the Lux family is unhappy in both familiar and unfamiliar ways.

The ending was disappointing for me, but I can't quite articulate why. Something about how Jean leaves, or maybe Eve and Phoebe's relationship resolves (if you can call it a resolution) just bothered me.

Wake; Anna Hope

Wake: A NovelWake by Anna Hope
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

My first DNF of the year - this story of several World War I women, old and young, single and married, childless and mothers, went on for too long (25% per my Kindle) without giving me something to grasp onto and continue reading.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Weight of Blood; Laura McHugh

The Weight of BloodThe Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Two girls go missing in the Ozarks: one a recent mother, an orphan from Iowa who came looking for work, the other a local girl with a mental defect. Are the two linked? Lucy, the daughter left behind years earlier by her "witch mother" Lily, wonders - and one day, while working for her uncle Clete, she finds something of Celia's, her former friend whose body was found stuffed in a tree. As Clete later says, Lucy starts acting like Nancy Drew, trying to piece together the mysteries.

There are multiple narrators here, but mostly we hear from Lily and how her life in Henbane resolved itself, and Lucy, years later. Some of the story is obvious, but knowing (or accurately guessing) beforehand doesn't stops the effectiveness of the story.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Enchanted; Rene Denfeld

The Enchanted: A NovelThe Enchanted by Rene Denfeld
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

'The Enchanted' is a prison and most of our story takes place on death row, in the mind of a prisoner who occasionally seems to hallucinate. What did he do? It's never quite clear, although when others speak about it he's clearly done something horrific. The other main character is 'the lady', an investigator who tries to help those on death row get new trials, reprieves, whatever. She's there to investigate York's past - another prisoner convicted of horrific crimes. The lady, York and our narrator are all scarred in similar ways, by similar pasts. That intersection makes for a fascinating read.

Again, ignore the blurbs on this - there's nothing remotely Stephen King-ian here. This is a quieter horror, the horror born of what our inhumanity and indifference can do to people, of how prison is a punishment beyond imagining and how for some people, death is truly the answer. The book will unsettle you, not by being creepy but by the simplicity of its story.

ARC provided by publisher.