29 March 2014

I Become Shadow; Joe Shine

I Become ShadowI Become Shadow by Joe Shine
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ren's voice is the best part about the book and what lifted it from a two to three star. The premise isn't a bad one, but the execution is somewhat lacking. Too much time spent on the training, and when the Link happens it just didn't seem to fit with that. Even worse is the last part, with Ren trying to save Gareth and go against what F.A.T.E. decrees. Part of me suspects there will be a sequel, and that the plot issues are because of the need to both pad (to fill two books) and edit (what plot points go where).

ARC provided by publisher.

Frog Music; Emma Donoghue

Frog MusicFrog Music by Emma Donoghue
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Such a very different read than Room! I write that with pleasure, not surprise or sadness that the author has changed genres. Instead of a modern day story we have a historical supposal about a mystery set in 1870s San Francisco: the question isn't really who shot Jenny Bonnet, but why (and was she the real target). Told in 'present' day as well as flashbacks to the previous five weeks activities by Blanche Beunon, we learn about both Jenny's uniqueness (wearing trousers, riding a high-wheel, catching frogs) and Blanche's somewhat abusive relationship with her macques (the man with whom she lives, the man she keeps by stripping and prostitution).

While less of a gripping read than Room, Frog Music is as well-written. I can't wait for her next book.

ARC provided by publisher.

Lies My Girlfriend Told Me; Julie Anne Peters

Lies My Girlfriend Told MeLies My Girlfriend Told Me by Julie Anne Peters
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Does it mark a turning-point (as some reviews say) when the sexual orientation of the characters doesn't matter? It's not that the orientation doesn't matter here, it's that the plot could be anyone in love who discovers they've been betrayed. Alix's reaction to Swan's death and her discovery of Liana is one that isn't reliant on them all being women; change the gender of even one of them and the story still works. The insertion of Joss and her grief didn't work quite as well and could have been handled better.

ARC provided by publisher.

Those Who Wish Me Dead; Michael Kortya

Those Who Wish Me DeadThose Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Decent suspense novel, with a few twists and good action. The question of why this is an adult novel, not YA remains: yes, there's violence, but nothing so horrific that it couldn't be shown on tv. I'm not saying that adults won't read this story (where the main focus is a 13-year-old) but younger readers will also enjoy it an may not know about it because it'll be in the adult section.

There was also one of those "huh??" moments towards the end, not really connected to the book but to they way we think. The brothers (and I did enjoy their conversational style) are described as having emigrated from Australia "at the turn of the century". Usually, when I hear that phrase it's the start of the 20th century but here it's the start of the 21st. How long before that automatic association changes?

ARC provided by publisher.

Bittersweet; Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

BittersweetBittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great Gothic beach read in the Anne Rivers Simmons vein.

The Deep Secret of the Winslows and Winloch is actually two secrets. The first is pretty obvious, the second not as much. That twist convinced me to goose the rating up a bit. And the setting isn't the usual one, but northern Vermont on the Canadian/New York border, another twist to the genre that goosed the rating. Mabel, Ev and the others are definite stereotypes, but in a beach read does that really matter?

ARC provided by publisher.

Fan Art; Sarah Tregay

Fan ArtFan Art by >Sarah Tregay
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A bit on the obvious side, but not a bad book and certainly one that would be good addition to a GLBTQIwhatever collection.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Lost Mission; Allen Zadoff

The Lost Mission (Boy Nobody, #2)The Lost Mission by Allen Zadoff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rumor has it that the title of the first book is being changed, but Boy Nobody really works best in setting up the series and premise; this sequel is worthy of that start.

Here, BN has gone off the grid - stunned by his reaction to his last mission, he just needs time alone to think. Hah. Of course the Program can't allow that and soon Father has essentially kidnapped Boy and inserted him into another mission. Why "lost"? Because the previous Boy has vanished, and this is their attempt to figure out what happened and how. What didn't ring true to the series is that the Program gives up on Boy far too easily; my guess is that the existential angst he was going through at both ends of the book will continue. My preference would have been for a little more of these "Alias"-like missions, with the angst as a slow build.

ARC provided by publisher.

Unlucky 13; James Patterson

Unlucky 13 (Women’s Murder Club, #13)Unlucky 13 by James Patterson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Truth in authorship would say "From the factory of James Patterson" but I guess giving Maxine Paetro second billing is slightly better.

This is the first of the Women's Murder Club mysteries I've read and it's definitely going to be the last. The "club" is a group of four friends, a cop, a coronor, a DA and a reporter. So why were only two of them featured? The DA is off on a cruise - that entire subplot had nothing to do with the main mystery and could easily have been cut. The "featured" murder (belly bombs) had promise, yet the investigation didn't live up to that promise, while the "carry over" (a serial killer) had much more promise but was in some ways given short shrift. One or the other would have worked, or a longer more detailed book. But this? It was mystery lite (not a cozy, just lite).

ARC provided by publisher.

Odin's Ravens; K.L. Armstrong

Odin's Ravens (The Blackwell Pages, #2)Odin's Ravens by K.L. Armstrong
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A good second in the series, but it felt like there was something missing. It might be that the books presume a little too much that readers have read the first, so there's no "previously" or set up in the same way that Percy Jackson did. And once again, I hope that this raises interest in the Viking myths - but I suspect it isn't.

ARC provided by publisher.

Allies and Assassins; Justin Somper

Allies and AssassinsAllies and Assassins by Justin Somper
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's fashionable to use "Game of Thrones" as a cultural marker but to me, Gormenghast is the better comparison: a realm fixed in tradition, with roles and rituals determined by both birth and What's Come Before. Despite this, change is coming because two kings have died in two years, and the most recent death isn't natural. Which of the Twelve can the new king, Jared, trust? Who would dare kill not only a King but his Consort, carrying his child?

More of the rituals and court life would have been nice, but here they're shoehorned into the action sequences and investigation. And that investigation seems a little too based on coincidence, even though we're supposed to believe it's a real investigation. Example? The interrogation sequences. My hope is that the second book is a little better paced and a little less trying to be a mystery and a character piece and a fantasy in one.

ARC provided by publisher.

Wish You Were Italian; Kristin Rae

Wish You Were ItalianWish You Were Italian by Kristin Rae
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The perfect romance read for those who are waiting for a new Sarah Dessen or Stephanie Perkins. Bonus: the setting, mostly in Cinque Terre, an area of Italy that just cries out "visit me".

ARC provided by publisher.

Secrets and Lies; Jacqueline Green

Secrets and Lies (Truth or Dare, #2)Secrets and Lies by Jacqueline Green
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is one of those series that needs readers to have read the first book before embarking on the second because otherwise the start is just too confusing. Note: I was not one of those readers and had to keep flipping back to the very start to try to keep the characters separate.

There are some obvious questions to be answered here, like who is behind the Dares and who could possibly know all these secrets. The less obvious questions are why none of the girls doesn't just bite the bullet and go to their parents or the police. Yes, teens feel as though their secrets are that huge but in this case? After what happened in Book One, surely someone would have decided Enough. Beyond that, there are a few pacing problems, and it sometimes feels as though we're rushing from event to event.

ARC provided by publisher.

While We Run; Karen Healey

While We Run (When We Wake, #2)While We Run by Karen Healey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A good continuation of When We Wake but again, somehow it just missed. This time we have a different POV, that of Abdi (the "thirdie" Teeg falls in love with in book one), which does help. What doesn't help is that at times I got serious Hunger Games-type flashbacks, particularly the tour the two are forced to do to promote the Ark Project. There are more action sequences here, less world and character building, and that doesn't help the book either.

Did I buy the world built? Sometimes. The lack of resources, the anti-immigrant stance, the desire to figure out how to solve those problems all made it feel real, as did the dichotomy between rich and poor. The technology of the 2100s didn't feel so far removed from what we have now, another sign of good world building. So if you loved the first book, this won't disappoint. But if you were hoping for something more...

ARC provided by publisher.

Torn Away; Jennifer Brown

Torn AwayTorn Away by Jennifer Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Living in tornado alley can't be easy, but Jersey's life has been lucky thus far... and of course, that luck has to change. In one terrifying day, life as she knows it is radically altered. While dealing with the death of her mother and sister would have been enough for one book, the author adds in her loosing even more. And that's why this is only three stars: too much, and not all of it believable. Jersey's father and step-father are two of the main problems, with her father's family close behind. What I'd hoped was that they'd become more real but no, Jersey escapes to her mother's family. Either Act One and Act Two, or Act One and Act Three, but all three? Just a little too much for me.

ARC provided by publisher.

Inside Madeleine; Paula Bomer

Inside MadeleineInside Madeleine by Paula Bomer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sometimes, pushing the envelope is not what it's cracked up to be and this collection of short stories proves it. There's nothing really experimental here, nothing that really reveals anything "true" about the characters or the situations. Of all the stories, only one really spoke to me (the first) and, sadly, the sex wasn't even exciting.

ARC provided by publisher.

We Were Liars; E. Lockhart

We Were LiarsWe Were Liars by E. Lockhart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The appeal of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks eluded me, so I was a little nervous about this but... oh wow. A very different book, and one I didn't want to have end. Of course that means that no one else will like it but who cares?

There's little I can say without completely spoiling the book, so let's just say that even if you do figure out what's going on early (as I did) it won't matter. The family Sinclair reminded me so much of my mother's family (even though the former is very WASPy and ours was, well, not) which helped me buy into some of the premise, but again, even those with normal families will enjoy this. And while I didn't want it to end, a longer book would have less impact.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Thickery; J.A. White

The Thickety: A Path BeginsThe Thickety: A Path Begins by J.A. White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At times thoughts of "The Village" ran through my head, because the village here is cut off from the rest of the world - it's on an island, settled by religious fanatics determined to live pure lives away from witchcraft, yet it's surrounded by a wood that seems to be home to demons and devils. The dress seems to be colonial era (long dresses, modest) and there's little to no modern technology, but sometimes I wondered if in the real world, off island, things are more up-to-date. The Thickery is a haunted, somewhat magical thicket, kept at bay by off islanders who somehow end up in the community (they're kept away from the villagers); no one dare go in the Thickery, except Kara (who flees there because there's no choice).

Here's hoping that the second book is as good as the first.

ARC provided by publisher.

Curses and Smoke; Vicky Alvear Shecter

Curses and Smoke: A Novel of PompeiiCurses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii by Vicky Alvear Shecter
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Pompeii, and its quick demise, has a hold on our imagination, but this book really doesn't capture that in the way I'd hoped. Instead of any real insight into the life and culture of the city, we get a love story (oooh! forbidden love at that!) and filler that gives the reader some history. It never felt as though I was really reading about that era, more that I was reading a modern story the author dressed up in Roman clothes. The characters had nothing that really made them stand out from the stereotype (Too Old Fiance, Father Who Cares More About Money Than His Daughter, Slave Reaching Above His Station, Rebellious Daughter, etc.).

ARC provided by publisher.

17 March 2014

Free to Fall; Lauren Miller

Free to FallFree to Fall by Lauren Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the future we'll be even more attached to our mobile devices. That's a given. This book explores that future, showing some of the dangers of relying too much on Lux (a Siri-like app that makes decisions for people) and relying too little on gut instinct and intuition. That alone made this a good read.

But the plot, complete with an organization secretive enough and dangerous enough to outdo Skull & Bones or the Masons in terms of influence? That's what brought this down from a solid five. Maybe the conspiracy lover in me just needed more, or the twists of who to trust and who not to didn't ring quite true. Had those worked just a little bit more...

ARC provided by publisher.

The Islands of Chaldea; Diana Wynne Jones

The Islands of ChaldeaThe Islands of Chaldea by Diana Wynne Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The last Diana Wynne Jones? Sigh. At least we have her other books to keep us going. That's not to imply that this isn't good - it's just, well, you always want more from your favorite authors, don't you?

The journey Aileen takes, both physically to the various islands and emotionally from girl to young woman, is enlivened by some of the peoples inhabiting Chaldea. The Red Queen, Plug-Ugly and the bards were all Wynne-Jones at her best (although at times I did wonder how much of this was influenced by some of the peoples in Oz).

This was good. Better than good in places, actually. But there was something slightly missing, something that moved it down from a five to a four. The magic was slightly dimmed and I think I'll blame this on the fact that it wasn't completed by the author but by her sister.

She Is Not Invisible; Marcus Sedgwick

She Is Not InvisibleShe Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Despite the major suspension of disbelief required (there's no way, in this post-9/11, post-7/7 world could Laureth and Benjamin have gotten to New York on their own) this was a good read. The obsessions their father has, recorded in his notebook, have clearly influenced both his children and their search for him is driven by more than just Laureth's sense of family duty. Laureth's coping strategies are admirable, and even though it's technically front-and-center, it's clear that there's much more to her than being blind. Benjamin is at times preternaturally adult, helping his big sister, and so obviously a 7-year-old that he's a very real boy.

In addition to that, the inclusion of the notebook pages on Freud, Jung and others may spark an interest in younger readers.  Not many books can make concepts like synchronicity understandable and interesting to pre-teens.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Geography of You and Me; Jennifer E. Smith

The Geography of You and MeThe Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Maybe I'm just too old, but I just didn't buy the premise of two teens falling in love and then essentially not connecting for months. There should have been something more keeping them together beyond the "omg I think I found my soul mate" plot.

ARC provided by publisher.

Love Letters to the Dead; Ava Dellaire

Love Letters to the DeadLove Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Interesting concept poorly executed. The assignment, one of those creative writing start-of-year ones, is to write a letter to a dead person. Laurel, reeling from her sister's death and mother's move to California (not to mention living one week with her father, another week with her mother's sister) decides to write to Kurt Cobain, her sister's favorite singer.

Soon she's writing to Amy Winehouse, Judy Garland and others. See what I mean about interesting? The poorly executed part is that the letters don't work as well as they could. First, letters shouldn't be filled with dialog between characters, they should be narrative or with minimal dialog. No teen writes pages of dialog in a letter. Second, there's a clunkiness when Laurel writes exposition about the person to whom she's writing - rather than asking how Judy Garland felt about her name change and being forced to support her family, she writes that it happened. Or she tells Kurt Cobain the facts of his life, which one would suppose he already knew. I get why the exposition needed to happen, but it could have been more gracefully written.

ARC provided by publisher.

14 March 2014

Raising Steam; Terry Pratchett

Raising Steam (Discworld, #40)Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This might not be the best Discworld book (that honor goes - IMVHO - to Hogfather) but it's a worthy entry in the series. For some reason Pratchett has been focusing on Moist and his running of various national enterprises (the mint... the bank... and now railways), giving characters like DEATH, the Watch and the wizards cameo roles.

How Moist gets the job running the railways, and a Luddite-esque reaction to this new technology (not to mention the clacks and other changes in Discworld life) is the focus here. This subseries is less humorous than the others subs, less laugh-out-loud funny than provoking the occasional chuckle. If the series were only about Moist's doings this would be a 5, which is why I gave it that rating but in terms of the series overall, it was more like a 3. Still, any Pratchett is welcome, right?

ARC provided by publisher.

The Vanishing Coin; Kate Egan

The Vanishing Coin [The Magic Shop Book 1]The Vanishing Coin by Kate Egan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another book that features a kid who has been bullied, teased, etc. and his way of escaping. No origami this time, it's all about the magic! While the plot is rather thin, what will engage the target audience is learning how to do the magic tricks and then amazing friends, family, strangers, etc.. Books like this might break their fascination with tablets/game devices.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry; Gabrielle Zevin

The Storied Life of A. J. FikryThe Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A great book for booklovers: set over a bookshop (mostly) and many references to favorite books and authors. This is about print book culture over digital book culture, about the power of words. The excitement that the two publisher reps have for their product is heartwarming.

That's not all, however, and that "not all" is why this was a four instead of a five. At the heart of this book is a mystery, the question of why Maya was left in the bookstore for A.J.; while the mystery doesn't take up much of the book it is still there and the answer strains credulity quite a bit. On the other hand, the short blurbs - shelf-talkers in a way - for several short stories will delight readers, either sending them off to read the story for the first time or to a knowing re-read.

ARC provided by publisher.

13 March 2014

The Shadow Prince; Bree Despain

The Shadow Prince (Into the Dark, #1)The Shadow Prince by Bree Despain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A much better version of the Hades/Persephone story (with an Orpheus/Eurydice overlay) than Goddess Interrupted and a series I'm keeping my eyes open for, at least for the next installment.

There are so many Greek "clues": Olympus Hills, Haden, Daphne and Ellis Fields. But that's not a bad thing for readers. Unlike the Percy Jackson series, there doesn't seem to be any god/human offspring here. Haden is a god - of sorts - but what Daphne is may be more difficult to suss out. Their relationship does stretch credulity, but in some ways that's understandable, given the subject matter. The reason for the 4 stars is that there is promise here, even though there are also issues, like exactly what Daphne's role in saving the Underrealm is supposed to be (at least, I think that's why Haden is after her) and all the padding (something all too evident in series books that go over 300 pages, and this is 500+).

ARC provided by publisher.

The Summer of Letting Go; Gae Polisner

The Summer of Letting GoThe Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

For some reason there was virtually nothing about this book that stayed with me when I was done; usually, reincarnation type books have something "hooky" about them that gets me, but here? Nothing. Maybe it was because the rest of the story was pedestrian and the characters bland. Whatever. I finished it, but if you asked me in another month I probably wouldn't remember anything.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Land of Steady Habits; Ted Thompson

The Land of Steady Habits: A NovelThe Land of Steady Habits by Ted Thompson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A steady read, no new ground broken in terms of topic or characters. The breakdown in Anders' life and his journey to and from the Connecticut shore towns was, well, rather predictable. There were a few moments when it seemed that the author was trying to break out of that established arc but it read as being shoehorned in rather than as a natural progression.

ARC provided by publisher.

Little Failure; Gary Shteyngart

Little FailureLittle Failure by Gary Shteyngart
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

There are so many bad jokes one could make about the title of the book and the fact that it was a DNF but I'll be good. Suffice it to say that there was nothing in what I read that made me care about the author or his life: he seemed too self-satisfied and too smugly humorous for my liking.

Random Acts of Kindness; Lisa Verge Higgins

Random Acts of KindnessRandom Acts of Kindness by Lisa Verge Higgins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Perfectly serviceable book about friendship, deep friendship that spans decades and a continent. This impromptu roadtrip and the conversations it engenders is not anything new to the genre but will reaffirm reader's sense that old friends, ones who knew you "back when" and can take you "back there/then" are the best. It may even make you pick up the phone and call a few of them.

ARC provided by publisher.

A Circle of Wives; Alice LaPlante

A Circle of WivesA Circle of Wives by Alice LaPlante
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is based on a real-life case, and it just blows my mind: outside a deliberately polygamous marriage (like those seen on shows like "Big Love" and "Sister Wives") how could any woman accept her husband's bigamous - or trigamous - marriages? how could a wife be as accepting of things like the absences and apparently closed-off areas of life that these women did?

The mystery of Dr. Taylor's death deepens as we learn that he had three marriages, with one wife controlling things and the other two completely in the dark. At the last minute, a new woman appears, claiming to be the fiancee for whom he's going to leave the other three (my guess? wishful thinking). Were the women as clueless as they claimed, or possibly in cahoots? That's what Detective Adams has to figure out, even as her own personal life is unraveling.

Less a whodunnit than a whydunnit and a howdunnit, with a huge heaping dose of human nature added. None of the women are particularly likeable, but one can see why the good doctor might have been attracted to them. And the question of monogamy, finding the one person who can meet all sides of your personality and needs, does drift across the reader's mind. This reader's mind, anyway.

ARC provided by publisher.

Panic; Lauren Oliver

PanicPanic by Lauren Oliver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There's something about books set in places you know that brings out the nitpicker, isn't there? And for this book, there are few nits (once you get beyond the "there's this game that no adult seems to know about" premise). The biggest: the portrayal of I87, usually referred to as the NYS Thruway (from Albany on South) or the Northway (Albany to Canada). Second biggest: the setting is supposed to be "in the middle of nowhere" but Duchess County, New York isn't "nowhere" (well, ok, one could debate that but it's not, for example, in the middle of the Adirondacks or North Dakota).

Beyond that, the game of Panic itself is, well... disturbing. The backstory on it is minimal; it seems to have started a few years earlier, but exactly how many is unclear as is what drove the creation of the game. Was it Truth or Dare gone very, very bad? And how has it been kept this far from the radar of adults? Surely someone said something. If you don't buy into the premise of the book, it won't work and at times my belief in the game waned.

The characters and the romances (luckily not a love triangle!!) are, like the game, sometimes very strong and believable and sometimes not quite so much. I'm not sure why Dodge and Bishop didn't ring as true for me as Nat and Heather, but they didn't. And the runaway subplot? Hmmm...

Still, a strong 3.5 which I'm rounding up because I think a thriller-type book that doesn't take place in a dystopia is a good thing. A very good thing.

ARC provided by publisher.

12 March 2014

The Here and Now; Ann Brashares

The Here and NowThe Here and Now by Ann Brashares
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reading this reminded me of a reverse Running Out of Time only with visitors from the future trying to keep their existence secret from the 'natives'. Once you're comfortable with the idea of time travel and how one might influence (corrupt?) the timeline, the premise of the book works. What works less well is the love story or the ending with Prenna's power move against the leaders. For me, anyway, it read as though there was a need for a strong ending but rather than go for something different the author chose to go the predictable route.

ARC provided by publisher.

10 March 2014

Mayhem; Sarah Pinborough

MayhemMayhem by Sarah Pinborough
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What is it about those Victorians? Sweeney Todd, Jack the Ripper, the murders described in P.D. James' The Maul and the Pear Tree and these, the Thames Torso Murders. Makes you really glad to be living today! The Torso Murders are a real thing (I looked them up), taking place around the same time as Jack's rampage and just as grisly, but far less well-known. And, like Jack's identity, this murderer has never been found, making this book a supposal rather than a retelling .

Working with primitive methods, Dr. Thomas Bond tries to figure out who is responsible - is this more of the Ripper's work? is there another serial killer on the loose? His work is helped, or hindered, depending on your definition, by his growing dependence on opium and "special opium" (aka "heroin"). He's joined in his investigation by a Jesuit and a Jew with visions of the future - sounds like a bad joke but the story does work it all in in a way that makes sense. The solution is the weakest part, relying on coincidence rather than detection.

ARC provided by publisher.

Nightingale's Nest; Nikki Loftin

Nightingale's NestNightingale's Nest by Nikki Loftin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's easy to see why there's so much love for this book; for me it was less about the magical realism and more about the power of regret. The fact that the poverty and the potential abuse weren't the most important parts made it just a little bit more powerful a read - it's the power that adults have over children, and the choices children make because of that power imbalance, that is front-and-center. Basing the story on Anderson's "The Nightingale" may lead readers to go back to that story and question how many people ask others to make similar choices/bad decisions.

I also appreciated the fact that the author didn't feel compelled to place this story in the past to avoid using modern technology. It's there, but lightly and doesn't play that large a role.

ARC provided by publisher.

Astonish Me; Maggie Shipstead

Astonish Me: A novelAstonish Me by Maggie Shipstead
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sadly, the book didn't live up to its title: I was not astonished. The promised backstage world of ballet is given short-shrift, but there's plenty of soap opera to keep people reading. The soap opera stuff is very reminiscent of "The Turning Point" with a jumble of the generations - had the author gone more down the "Breaking Pointe" route, with a greater focus on the actual ballet drama than on the interpersonal family drama it would have been a much more interesting book. Sophie Flack's Bunheads does a better job of portraying the world of ballet than this does.

The use of flashbacks and a jagged timeline don't do the novel any favors; the tension of whether Arslan will defect may confuse younger readers, as the Cold War has receded in our memory. In retrospect the story and the tension make sense, but it takes the perspective of having read the entire story to fully grasp that. Ballet aficionados will spend time wondering if Arslan is Misha or Rudy, but it really doesn't matter - nor does whether Mr. K is Balanchine, and which of his wives Elaine might be.

ARC provided by publisher.