31 May 2014

Landline; Rainbow Rowell

LandlineLandline by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Somehow I expected more from this book - the idea that one can fix one's relationship via an old landline sounded interesting, and at first it was. Maybe it was that we got yanked into the real world at odd intervals, maybe it was that I didn't buy the opening part (Georgie's phone dying, and her utter lack of caring about her appearance so early on). Or maybe that I wasn't given a real reason why I should care about these two people... Whatever it was, this was more "meh" than anything else.

ARC provided by publisher.

Wildflower; Alecia Whitaker

WildflowerWildflower by Alecia Whitaker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can see this being a huge success for teens who love Sarah Dessen, Stephenie Perkins, etc. For me, Bird seemed to be strong but the moment she gets into Nashville, that strength just completely disappears. Her parents are equally bad; luckily, her brothers and their reactions to everything are very real.

ARC provided by publisher.

The League of Seven; Alan Gratz

The League of Seven (#1)The League of Seven by Alan Gratz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Steampunk adventure perfect for middle grade readers looking for something like Percy Jackson but without the mythology. Instead of Hera and Zeus (and the other gods), we have a group of seven Heroes who arise every whenever, that "whenever" being when monsters - deadly, destructive monsters out to destroy civilization - rise and start doing their thing. These seven have certain attributes and have united many times over the millennia, and now it's time to do so again. This book only introduces us to three of them, in an alternate version of the world, so there will be sequels.

Usually steampunk bothers me, but not as much here. It added a nice overlay to the genre (random children with something special that fulfills a prophecy or need), and the way in which our world had changed was interesting.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Beast Within; Serena Valentino

The Beast Within: A Tale of Beauty's PrinceThe Beast Within: A Tale of Beauty's Prince by Serena Valentino
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This isn't as much of a fractured fairy tale as it is the Beast's story (you know, the one from Beauty and...). I'm giving it a 4 even though the overly heavy Disney-effect - all the characters have Disney-designated names, names that will resonate with teens who grew up knowing that version and not, like older readers, using their imagination about who and what worked in the castle. There's a Dorian Grey-like portrait, which deviates from that story in that the portrait starts to match reality (or perhaps I've got that backward). Since I never saw the movie, how closely this hews to the story of what happened to turn the Prince into the Beast is unknown, but the story certainly worked for me.

Probably better for teens who loved the movie than anyone else, given the character names.

ARC provided by publisher.

25 May 2014

The Abominables; Eva Ibbotson

The AbominablesThe Abominables by Eva Ibbotson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Usually I love Ibbotson books, but this one left me a little cold (no pun intended). There was just a little too much going on, as if cramming more action would be better than staying in one place and making that chapter better. The humor also felt a little stale at times. Sigh.

ARC provided by publisher.

Invasion of the Appleheads; A.G. Cascone

Invasion of the Appleheads (Deadtime Stories, #2)Invasion of the Appleheads by A.G. Cascone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If I were the target audience, this would have been a solid 4 star, so that's why it's so high.

A family, new to the town of Appleton, is on a sight-seeing trip when they enter a supposedly haunted orchard. Except - maybe - it really is haunted. The kids look a lot like zombies, and there's a mysterious fog that somehow separates the parents from the children. Can Katie and Andy save themselves, let alone the town? The suspense and horror are perfect for younger horror fans.

The Girl with All the Gifts; M.R. Carey

The Girl with All the GiftsThe Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There's no way to really review this without spoiling it, so let me just say that the author does a good job of positing a society disrupted by a virus, and asking us to question what "human" means.

After so many years of reading dystopian books, it's getting old but this one is somewhat different. The societal collapse and government reaction were well within the realm of real. And even though the characters were stereotypes (hence the four, not five stars) with only one exception did they have some shades grey in their makeup.

ARC provided by publisher.

Chorus; Emma Trevayne

Chorus (Coda #2)Chorus by Emma Trevayne
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I'd swear I've read this before, perhaps in two or three other books. What kept me reading was the idea of once you've escaped from the web/matrix/whatever, going back because of family. Not only going back, but bringing friends with you. But beyond that? Yawn.

ARC provided by publisher.

Fourth of July Creek; Smith Henderson

Fourth of July CreekFourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When a main character is unlikable it makes it difficult to sympathize, but Henderson does a relatively good job of making Pete Snow a sympathetic, if not likeable, lead. His family life is a mess, from his drug-addict brother (now on the run from his parole officer) to his domineering father to his runaway daughter - nothing is going right for him. And then there's his job, covering a relatively large territory in Montana for the Department of Child Services. It's understandable that he has a small drinking problem.

The thing is, he truly does care about the kids and wants them to lead good lives. It's just that he isn't able to really do anything, especially if the kids and their parents, don't also help themselves. And that's what leads him into trouble when he meets with Benjamin Pearl, son of Jeremiah, an End Timeser who lives (illegally) off the land in the wilds near Tenmile. Pete's judgement, never great, gets worse...

What kept this from being a five star was the occasional over-the-top event, and a cast of too many characters. It was also implausible that no one noticed Pete's going off the rails - something the author, via Pete's inner monologue, mentions. The Pete/Benjamin/Jeremiah story would have been enough for one book, and perhaps one or two side stories. But for there to be as many as there were drew focus from the important stuff.

ARC provided by publisher.

18 May 2014

Caged Warrior; Alan Sitomer

Caged WarriorCaged Warrior by Alan Sitomer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What could have been a stronger book lost points for triteness of plot and (although this is cheap, because it wasn't the publisher or author's fault) for missing pages at the end of the ARC. From what I've read in the other reviews, it appears that this is going to have a sequel, though I'm at a loss as to why.

The triteness is that once again we have a boy from an impoverished background (inner city Detroit, mixed race, missing mother, alcoholic/drug addict father) doing something he doesn't particularly want to do but does because he's trying to provide a stable family environment for his much-younger sister. McCutcheon (aka M D, Doc or Bam Bam) struggles to overcome all that and get out, this time to an elite charter school that he somehow magically wins a much-coveted placement in, despite not wanting it or even trying for it. Instead he's focussed on winning MMA cage matches, being raised as a warrior by his former heavyweight boxer father.

While I've read similar stories many times before, it's probably going to appeal to the target readers, who don't have the years or breadth of reading behind them that I do. And for those interested in MMA, well... there's definitely enough here about training and fighting to keep them reading.

ARC provided by publisher.

Summer House with Swimming Pool; Herman Koch

Summer House with Swimming PoolSummer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not quite a case of sophomore slump, more like a case of going from A (The Dinner, which I've successfully convinced several book clubs to read/discuss) to an A- (this book).

Once again we have an outrageous act, only in this instance it's not quite clear until late in the book exactly what the act was - from the start we know that Dr. Marc Schlosser has been, in some way, negligent in his treatment of Ralph Meier, a famous actor. And for some reason, Ralph's wife, Judith is more than upset, she's spit-in-the-face-at-the-funeral, pay-an-angry-office-visit upset. As with The Dinner, the why of all of this unfolds slowly throughout the book. There's a twist at the end, one that surprised me (as you know, never a bad thing in a book!) and surprises the good doctor as he realizes his assumptions have all been wrong.

As with the earlier book, none of the characters are particularly likeable. Marc's attitudes towards his patients and family are a little difficult to deal with at times, but he's able to articulate those attitudes in ways that make them almost understandable. With the exception of Julia, his elder daughter, post-rape, I found it hard to sympathize or enjoy any of the people we meet. We only have Marc's POV here, which also colors our opinions of the others. Having said that, they all felt as though they were drawn from real life, and that the author's other job is as a television producer probably helped with that. Unlike other books written by tv or movie writers/producers, this doesn't seem to have been written with eventual filming in mind: there's too much going on that's inside the characters that just won't translate well.

Can't wait to see what Koch comes up with next.

ARC provided by publisher.

Someone Else's Skin; Sarah Hilary

Someone Else's SkinSomeone Else's Skin by Sarah Hilary
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Marnie Rome is yet another troubled Detective Inspector, this time because Stephen, the foster child her parents took in and then adopted after she left home, murdered her parents. She's still coming to grips with this loss and the mixed emotions of anger and guilt (technically she's Stephen's older sister). I'm never sure how I feel about this need to have deep, disturbed backgrounds to my detectives, and this one left me more up in the air than usual.

We meet Marnie at the scene of her parent's death, then flash forward a few years to a case she's work, trying to convince a young woman blinded by her brothers to testify against her oldest brother, accused of chopping off someone's hand. She and her partner walk in to the women's shelter this girl is hiding in just as another shelteree stabs her abusive husband. How did the knife get into the shelter? How did this abused wife garner enough gumption to stab him? And why did she leave the hospital AMA?

It's all very well plotted and yet there were few surprises. I like being surprised, even if it's not by the solution to the mystery. I'll have to see how this series progresses.

ARC provided by publisher.

Six Feet Over It; Jennifer Longo

Six Feet Over ItSix Feet Over It by Jennifer Longo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Leigh's family is dysfunctional: her sister, Kai, has recently finished chemotherapy and is "cured" from her cancer, and something convinced her father to move the family from their lives in Mendocino inland, caretakers/owners of a cemetery. Mom spends her time painting and ignoring the girls, and Dad seems incapable of doing anything so it falls to Leigh to see to sales, burials and arrangements. Fun, right?

Even though the wrapping seems outlandish, the fear that Leigh seems to feel about forming relationships and friendships, her resentment (and guilt) about her feelings towards Kai, and her acute sense of loss of her one true friend, Eleanor all rang true. That's what saved the book for me. Leigh's voice was strong and very real for me. Her reactions to Kai's recovery, Dario's involvment in her life, her parents and her situation felt like reactions I might have had, were I in her shoes.

ARC provided by publisher.

(Don't You) Forget About Me; Kate Karyus Quinn

(Don't You) Forget About Me(Don't You) Forget About Me by Kate Karyus Quinn
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

What's with the song title as book title thing? Ok, Hold me closer, Necromancer was funny, but this? It's like Quentin Tarrantino started writing a book and decided to give every chapter a song title (much like Suburban Strange did, ditto If I Ever Get Out of Here). Sometimes it works... the rest of the time it just feels contrived. Here, it's contrived.

About the plot, well, it starts well. There's something that turns teens into monsters every four years. Weird stuff happens, like a teen suddenly being able to set things on fire. Or mass delusion that leads to jumping off a bridge (it's not suicide if it's a mass delusion, but still...). The perpetrators of all this get sent to the reformatory, an eerie building located on a hillside away from town. And the town itself is a little strange: people arrive from elsewhere in the US, usually suffering from a fatal disease, and miraculously heal and lead long (very long) lives. The "four years" are getting worse, however, and the lives are getting shorter. So what's going on?

Skylar's sister Piper is the one behind the bridge jump, and she's now in the reformatory. Skylar hears Piper's voice in her head when she's not dosed with forget-me-not-based forgetting drugs; she's determined to figure out what's been going on and to detox from the drugs once and for all. The problem is, of course, what will she learn? how will this affect the town of Gardnerville?

The problem for me was that the pacing was uneven and the explanations for what was happening (and why) delivered too quickly. Pieces of the puzzle could have been dribbled out rather than dumped on readers seemingly all at once. The good thing is that this appears to be a stand-alone and we're left to imagine the future of the town and fate of the characters after the book has ended.

ARC provided by publisher.

17 May 2014

The Orphans of Race Point; Patry Francis

The Orphans of Race Point: A NovelThe Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Who are the Orphans of Race Point? Well, the original orphan is Gus, who isn't quite an orphan (his mother's dead, his father in jail for that murder). Hallie, daughter of the town doctor, goes Gus' aunt's house in an attempt to bring him out of his shocked silence. Eventually, he does and he, Hallie and Neil become a tight triumvirate until the boys blood swear their friendship. Later, Gus and Hallie reconcile and three once again are partners, until high school graduation when the unthinkable happens.

It's the aftermath of that night that forms the basis of the rest of this book, playing with the themes of love, forgiveness, hate, revenge, faith and disbelief. New characters join the plot, and the events leading to Gus' "orphanhood" repeat themselves, this time with very different results. Gus - now a priest, albeit one too trusting and naive - is framed for a death, which is when some of my credulity was strained. With no body, where was the absolute proof of his guilt? Given his popularity, wouldn't someone have tried to free him far earlier?

The last third is one of redemption and resolution, although the ending will probably disappoint readers looking for a more conventional resolution. For me, it was equal parts disappointment and relief that the characters stayed true to themselves.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Hunt; Stacey Kade

The Hunt (Project Paper Doll, #2)The Hunt by Stacey Kade
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Being able to rapidly enter a world already established in Book One without having read it is always a good thing. The World of The Hunt was relatively easy to understand, in part because there was nothing terribly complicated about it: an evil corporation has created a human/alien hybrid and raised it (in this case, her, Ariane) to be able to live among humans with some degree of ease. Of course Ariane doesn't particularly like what's been done to her and escapes, with her friend Zane tagging along. Hijinks ensue.

And that's the problem: the reason it wasn't difficult to pick up the threads here is because they were well-worn threads. Very little new or surprising happens here, but readers who enjoy this type of book (and I'm including fans of Boy Nobody as well) will enjoy this entry into the genre.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Shadow Queen; Sandra Gulland

The Shadow QueenThe Shadow Queen by Sandra Gulland
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Historical fiction that features real people as the main characters is difficult to do right, and this book does better than most. Because this was an ARC, some of the back matter was missing and it's lucky that I knew about the era and the lineages - without them, there will be some confusion.

What's interesting is that one might assume that the shadow queen mentioned here is the lead, Claudette, but it isn't - she's merely the confidante, midwife, medicine procurer and "alternate" for Athénaïs, King Louis XIV's current favorite (aka "shadow queen"). Their lives at court are less detailed here than Claudette's previous lives as a member of an travelling acting troupe, and then as seamstress to a troupe that includes Corneille and Racine (not to mention a rivallry with that upstart Moliere). At times it felt as though that part of Claudette's life was what really intrigued the author, far more than the intracacies of the King's court.

ARC provided by publisher.

Elizabeth is Missing; Emma Healey

Elizabeth Is MissingElizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This wasn't quite what I expected, hence the drop in rating. When the blurbage promises a mystery based on the memory of an Alzheimer's patient, that's what I expect. And while we did dwell on whether or not Elizabeth was missing, as perceived by her friend Maud, whose mental state is deteriorating rapidly, there's much more about the past, when Maud's sister truly did go missing. The intersection of those mysteries is where the heart of the book lies and it's an interesting one.

I felt Maud's confusion: what were these notes in her pocket about? why were the notes about not cooking, and why did the caretaker keep saying not to eat dinner now? Not remembering must be beyond disorienting, it must be terrifying. When the memories of the past start leaking into the present it must be even more terrifying. Without spoiling the ending, those memories do eventually merge into a truth but (and this isn't covered in the book) will Maud really understand what has happened?

ARC provided by publisher.

We Are the Goldens; Dana Reinhardt

We Are the GoldensWe Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Another book that seems like only a slight revision of another, this time The Whole Golden World (even down to the use of "Golden" in the title!). I find the idea of teacher/student Relationships to be creepy, and any attempt to justify them just wrong.

So maybe it's just me, but while I understood Nell's reluctance to "tattle" on her sister, the book's passive approval of Layla's affair was bothersome. I kept hoping that there would be more in the way of consequences for Mr. B, or just something that showed how wrong this relationship was.

ARC provided by publisher.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August; Claire North

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry AugustThe First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometimes I keep reading despite my "first 50 and out" rule for books that don't grab me; sometimes it's a definite DNF after the next 50, and sometimes - as with this book - there's a wonderful delayed WOW.

The problem, I think, is getting into the world of Harry August. He's something special, our Harry, blessed (or cursed) with being reborn again and again. Now, this isn't a forward-moving thing, it's about reliving the same life over. The memories flood back early on, and from there you can make choices about how you want to live your next life. Messages are sometimes sent up and down the centuries, and one day Harry gets a message from the future that he can't ignore - a mission that takes the next few lives to resolve. If you think that's complicated, the structure of the novel doesn't help. We read in two timelines, one whichever life Harry feels like describing and the other his current life.

It's that complexity of timelines and a slight lack of early-on explanation that made me question whether to keep reading; additionally I didn't see why we should care about any of his lives. Until suddenly, there was that WOW moment when I realized that this was a book to be savored. The start, however, is still a slog, hence the drop from a five to a four-star.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Queen of the Tearling; Erick Johansen

The Queen of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling, #1)The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reading this felt a little like reading an altered version of Rae Carson's "Fire and Thorns" trilogy. Instead of a living jewel there is a twinned jewel that somehow is activated by Kelsea. Who, by the way, was raised in ignorance of all things royal and yet is expected to, on her 19th birthday, ascend the throne. She's an enlightened ruler, of course, and the people love her. Especially the part about her breaking the treaty with the neighboring Red Queen, which is the part that will create problems in upcoming volumes.

That there's nothing truly surprising or original here doesn't mean that this isn't still a good read, especially for those who love this type of plot. I'd be even happier with this if the next book explores Mortmense, or what drove the people of this place to leave what appears to be a modern civilization and start over without technology and books.

ARC provided by publisher.