27 June 2014

The Good Girl; Mary Kubica

The Good GirlThe Good Girl by Mary Kubica
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading this reminded me of another good debut mystery from a few years ago (not going to name it because it would spoil this one).

The story of Mia's kidnapping and her Stockholm Syndrome-esque response to being rescued is told from a variety of viewpoints: her mother's, the policeman assigned to the case and "Owen", her kidnapper. There's also play with the timeline, as we open with the discovery she's gone, then move from kidnapping to present day and back. Why she was kidnapped in the first place is not revealed until the very end, and even then it's only told to us, the reader, not to any of the characters. It almost doesn't matter in terms of the action/reaction, but without it Mia herself doesn't quite make sense. To be honest, I had pegged someone else as the instigator and was really pleased to be proven wrong!

My hope is that the final version makes it easier to tell whose voice we're hearing, and that the jumping around doesn't turn people off. This was a great debut and I can't wait for her next effort.

Big Little Lies: Liane Moriarty

Big Little LiesBig Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The gimmick of intertwining the police questions with the events leading up to the murder didn't bother me that much. Even better was that there was some real ambiguity until the murder itself as to who it was (so many possibilities, each equally valid). But the predictable stuff, like who the bully was or whether Jane would come out of her shell, lessened the impact of that goodness. Add to that a lack of a real sense of place, despite our being told several times about the beach setting, and you get a three-star.

ARC provided by publisher.

26 June 2014

You; Caroline Kepnes

YouYou by Caroline Kepnes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We've all had those "moments" - that time when you look at someone, perhaps have a brief conversation, and just know, 100% know, that you're made for each other. For the majority of us, it ends there. For some, it leads to a date, or another conversation. For Joe, however, it leads to obsession. His few sentences with Beck lead to him stalking her, convinced she's going to end up with him because they're so obviously right for each other.

What brought this down from a solid five (this is really 4.5 stars) is that some of this is just implausible. If you lose your phone, why not just buy a new one and have the number put on it? And if you suspect someone is, well, a little "off", why confront them privately? Why not (particularly given what Beck learns) leave and go to the police immediately? And how does no one suspect Joe of anything, ever?

Such a creepy book, not because of the mystery but because far too often what goes on is just so close to "it could really happen."

ARC provided by publisher.

The Sign of the Weeping Virgin; Alana J. White

The Sign of the Weeping VirginThe Sign of the Weeping Virgin by Alana J. White
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Still very unsure how I feel about this trend towards well-known historical figures solving mysteries. In this case, Gian'Antonio Vespucci is less well-known than his nephew, Amerigo but still... This was also pretty light on the mystery part as well and one (the weeping virgin of the title) not really solved by the end.

Still, for those who really love the Renaissance this is a good look into that era with plenty of historical background and atmosphere.

Rock Breaks Scissors; William Poundstone

Rock Breaks Scissors: A Practical Guide to Outguessing and Outwitting Almost EverybodyRock Breaks Scissors: A Practical Guide to Outguessing and Outwitting Almost Everybody by William Poundstone
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Accessible even to those of us who are "math challenged", although I'm not sure I buy some of the ideas (specifically the "outwitting the stock market" part). There is a lot of truth in the fact that we fall into patterns, and no matter what, subconsciously those patterns will always emerge.

23 June 2014

The School for Good and Evil; Soman Chainani

The School for Good and Evil (The School for Good and Evil, #1)The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Such promise here: the "good" child versus the "evil" child showing that outward appearances aren't what they seem, it's what's inside that matters. Except we know from the start that Sophie and Agatha don't fall into the categories the village thinks they do (or should), so there's no real surprise which school they're attached to. Nor is there any surprise at how Sophie and Agatha react to their circumstances once at the school. Still, younger readers will enjoy seeing both get what they deserve.

The idea that these children end up in their own fairy tale could have played a much larger role, but once again we have the whole "oh, it's a series so let's pad the action, and then pad it again" problem. Had that not happened, had there been some editorial shears applied, this could have been a five-star.

20 June 2014

Red Rising; Pierce Brown

Red Rising (Red Rising Trilogy, #1)Red Rising by Pierce Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A lot of promise, but because this will be a trilogy there were parts that just dragged... and dragged... Plus there's a lot that felt like a more vicious version of The Hunger Games, like the Houses being pitted against each other, with a fight to, well, not the death but pretty damn close. My guess is that this will appeal to boys more because of the greater violence and the POV.

The Glass Sentence; S.E. Grove

The Glass Sentence (The Mapmakers Trilogy, #1)The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Such an original world! In some ways, it reminded me of The Rithmatist with the nearly-our-world setting and the imaginative use the author makes of something we take rather for granted, in this case, maps.

The quest/trek we (via Sophia and Theo) undertake, first to find Uncle Shadrack, then to Varessa and the carta mayor follows the usual route: danger to be avoided, seemingly untrustworthy people being "good guys" and "good guys" who really aren't, etc.. But again, there's enough that's slightly different that will appeal to readers who are tired of the contests and dystopias. I'm not sure I understood the different map types, but the idea of a water map just sounds so cool.

Copy provided by publisher.

NOS4A2; Joe Hill

NOS4A2NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This will probably sound wrong, but I saw NOS4A2 as a much darker version of Pratchett's Hogfather - the same idea of a world that exists if you believe in it seemed to run through both books. Of course, this doesn't have DEATH, but it does have Death and mayhem, and a heroine who tries to shirk her duties because she's convinced herself that the Shorter Way Bridge was all a hallucination.

Unlike most horror books, I don't think this will keep people up at night. Instead, it might make people rethink Christmas and its ever longer season (one can hope, right? I mean, really: Jingle Bells in July? No thanks!). The Evil, Charlie Marx, is an interesting villain, just bad enough to make you wonder about the slightly odd guy one street over. Ditto Gasmask Man.

The Miniaturist; Jessie Burton

The MiniaturistThe Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Historical gothic fiction is (I think) the genre I'd give this. The depiction of 1600s Amsterdam and the tensions between commerce and piety are well-drawn. There's enough background for us to quickly understand that Africans are a strange sight, that sugar is relatively new and how the society worked. But not so much that readers will get bored, which is good because the underlying question of how the miniaturist knows what's in everyone's house, how the dolls and items so accurately reflect real life (sometimes even before Nella knows what's going on) is far more interesting. The gothic-ness is light, yet the creepy factor is high. Sometimes you wanted to take Marin and Nella and slap them, then tell them to just actually talk. So much of what happens could have been avoided had that been the case.

Best part? Some of the questions about the minaturist's art are never resolved. Yay!

ARC provided by publisher.

Delicious; Ruth Reichl

Delicious!Delicious! by Ruth Reichl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A great summer beach read - the food stuff is wonderful (I so wish The Pig existed in real life, ditto the various stores on the Sal test), and then there's the romance. Not unrealistic... most of the time. Billie's lack of self-confidence sometimes struck me as being a little much. But oooh, that library! And the clues!

The Children of Kings; Marion Zimmer Bradley

The Children of Kings (Darkover, #28)The Children of Kings by Marion Zimmer Bradley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not going to comment on MZB's rather problematic life - that's not appropriate here. Instead I'll say that this was a good addition to a series I've enjoyed for years, predominantly since we spend a lot of time in the Dry Towns (an area barely explored before).

What I've missed all through this series was more about the different species, the Dry Towns and the mythology and how it developed. These people came from Earth, so where did the myths of Cassilda and Zandru's hells come from? My hope is that there will be more books that go into that, as the whole "the Federation has left, what's next?" theme is getting tired. There's more Darkover history to explore... I hope.

16 June 2014

Living with a Wild God; Barbara Ehrenreich

Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth about EverythingLiving with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth about Everything by Barbara Ehrenreich
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Disappointing - more of her childhood journals and less of her childhood memories would have worked better. Instead, there are random paragraphs of the former that are jumping off points for the latter. At times it read as though she wanted a much more intellectual version of Walls' Glass Castle and at others, well, I don't know. Something just was off with the way it was written.

Having said that, some of her insights were interesting and reminded me of my scientist father and his lack of belief or spirituality. This is not be a book that people who are deeply spiritual will appreciate, but for those who are huge Ehrenreich fans or who are looking for wide-ranging thoughts about science and god and life it's not a bad read.

15 June 2014

Already Dead; Stephen Booth

Already Dead: Cooper and Fry 13Already Dead by Stephen Booth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really love this series, but Diana Fry is starting to wear on my nerves. She's gone from cranky and reserved to just unlikeable - and after the last book, with what happened to Ben, you'd think she'd lighten up a little.

The mystery itself is rather slight, as if the author is allowing himself, his readers and characters to catch their breath a little. Only one death, and seemingly little chance of more. Ben, of course, is on compassionate leave but still gets involved. Is he truly going off the rails? It seems more like getting into character and hiding in plain sight than anything more. I am getting a little tired of his overwhelming local knowledge and ability to make connections, and then being told he's something of a mess and not as good as he could be. Huh?

One of the things that always grabs me is the sense of place, how Edendale and surroundings play such a large role not just in the mystery but in the lives of the characters. The history we get, from hill forts to plague villages to walking tours, really adds. But at times, less is more. Less angst from Fry, less assuming Cooper's going to mess up, and less scenery - more mystery, more enjoyment.

Just One Evil Act; Elizabeth George

Just One Evil Act (Inspector Lynley, #18)Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Conan Doyle had a small problem: he wanted to stop writing the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Solution? Kill off Holmes. Major fan uproar, and an implausible resurrection had to take place. I bring this up because I'm feeling like Ms. George wants to do the same, but is afraid that her legions of fans just won't let Lynley or Havers go (although killing Lady Helen Clyde several books back was easy). So instead, she's going to make them less likeable and just drive her fans away.

We're only a year past Lady Helen's death and several books have passed. This one, with its focus on Havers, should have been more interesting than it was, because this is truly a unique creation. The hair, the clothes, the attitude - nothing quite like it in a female detective, private or police. But here? She's almost a parody of herself. Lynley virtually sleepwalks through his role in the book, and Deborah, Charlie, Nkata and Simon are barely there.

Instead we get excruciatingly long stretches of plot in Italy. Where - WHERE??? - were the editorial shears? Who thought this 700+ page book was good to go? I found a few typos, but beyond that at least a third of the book could have easily been excised and it would have been better.

It really feels like the author is trying to drive readers away so she can just end the series. My advice? Help her out. Or, if she's reading these reviews, put the characters away for a bit. Stick with the Widbey Island series. And then, if people truly clamor for a new Lynley/Havers, or you have a great idea that just cries out for these people, write another.

13 June 2014

Miss Montreal; Howard Shrier

Miss Montreal (Jonah Geller #4)Miss Montreal by Howard Shrier
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Because I've spent quite a bit of time in Montreal, it was fun seeing it through the author's eyes; Côte-Vertu is not an area I've explored and just might have to now. I also enjoyed the use of French (even when it was written as jouale) without an immediate translation (e.g. Cara Black's telling us that a pain au chocolat is a chocolate croissant).

So that's the good. The "meh" was the plot, which was relatively predictable, and the Spillane-eqsue writing style. For some reason, the style felt forced and awkward, which made it less easy to read. And as much as I like Boston and Chicago, the style alone is enough to keep me from reading others in this series. YMMV.

The Last Enchanter; Laurisa White Reyes

The Last EnchanterThe Last Enchanter by Laurisa White Reyes
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There were too many scenes where this just read like a poorer version of other fantasy books, as though the author read a lot of Eva Ibbotson, Diana Wynne Jones and others, and then played "pick an element" as she wrote this. Good editing (scenes dragged, as did the overall book) and a little more imagination would have made this a better read.

A Garden of Marvels; Ruth Kassinger

A Garden of Marvels: How We Discovered that Flowers Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of PlantsA Garden of Marvels: How We Discovered that Flowers Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of Plants by Ruth Kassinger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a great book for those of us who never really took (or paid attention) in botany classes. The framing, with the author looking for and finding someone to make her a cocktail tree, immediately draws the reader in and keeps the interest level high, while the factual information given is done so engagingly (and without such a huge amount of science) that it doesn't feel like a science book.

Wear No Evil; Greta Eagen

Wear No Evil: How to Change the World with Your WardrobeWear No Evil: How to Change the World with Your Wardrobe by Greta Eagan
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Such a disappointing book.

The beginning, when the discussion is about where our clothing comes from and what chemicals and problems we should be aware of, is quite good. But then it devolves into wardrobe advice, brand recommendations, etc. and, well, that's a quick route to an DNF for me. Plus? Not enough on consignment shops, Goodwill/Salvation Army stores and the like.

10 June 2014

Babe Conquers the World; Rich Wallace

Babe Conquers the World: The Legendary Life of Babe Didrikson ZahariasBabe Conquers the World: The Legendary Life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias by Rich Wallace
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Only at the very end do the authors bemoan that when we talk about Babe is usually "Ruth" not "Didrikson" and this book attempts to correct that. It would have been interesting had that thread carried through the book, because she truly was famous and yet we don't get a full sense of that fame. They also seem to pull some punches when describing this woman who doesn't seem terribly likeable. Her lack of team play is mentioned, but not how she managed to get the track event rules changed (who did the campaigning, Babe? her boss? someone else?) and others reaction to that and other things is muted.

What comes through loud and clear is that she was an amazing athlete at a time when women were actively discouraged from competing (or even learning athletics). Her accomplishments were so varied and inspiring at the time, but we really hear very little about her today.

09 June 2014

Hollow City; Ransom Riggs

Hollow City (Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, #2)Hollow City by Ransom Riggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Earlier this year I heard Riggs speak about his fascination with discarded photographs, something that started when he was young and visiting his grandparents. Taking these artifacts (belonging to whom? why were they abandoned? who are they of?) and creating a story around them is so wonderfully creative! The photo on the cover gets a backstory that fits so nicely with the world that the author has created, so much so that the real story would probably disappoint.

I'm also enjoying this world. Yes, it's fantasy (of a sort) and the "peculiars" are in line with wizards in a Muggle world, not to mention the whole time loop thing, but there's something very original about how the elements have been mixed together.

Can't wait for book three.

Red Madness; Gail Jarrow

Red Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We EatRed Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat by Gail Jarrow
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This could so easily have been a higher-rated book but, well... ok, first of all, that trim size. Why, publishers, why? It's just wrong. This is not a book that needs the bigger size to support maps or photos. Then there were far too many examples of pellagrins and they started to run together. Half as many, twice as nice. Finally, comparing pellagra and its cost in terms of lives to other, better known diseases, would really have put this in perspective (ditto adding in the cost in European lives and how those countries reacted to American discoveries). Yes, we do get some information about scurvy and beriberi, but what do today's students know about those? TB would have been better, ditto polio. Not the same cause, but sheer numbers might have been instructive.

For students looking for reasons why we enrich our food, and what that might be necessary even today, this is a good exploration and might lead to other books on nutrition and food additives.

08 June 2014

This Dark Road to Mercy; Wiley Cash

This Dark Road to MercyThis Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The town of Gastonia is a real place, but one hopes that Cash is only highlighting the people and places that are, well, not on the official town tour. As with A Land More Kind Than Home the characters here are just going through life - sometimes with hope, more often in some way with no hope.

Once again we have a father who is a failure, both at life and in sports (here, baseball). Wade has no relationship with his daughters, not just because he left but because he also gave up his parental rights. So why does he want back into their lives? Is it because their mother is dead, or is there something else going on? Easter, his elder daughter, seems wise behind her years and provides us with a realistic point-of-view on her father and what's going on. The two other POVs feel somewhat muted, with motivations and lives that aren't fully explained or realized. That's actually not a bad thing, because too much "real" would be truly too much.

Given the near poverty of the main characters, setting this in the 80s wasn't necessary - not having cell phones would have been plausible. The backdrop of the Sosa/McGuire home run contest didn't really add to the plot (and with what we know now about the doping, seems wrong - although at the time it was exciting). My hope is that the next Wiley Cash book is set more today, whether or not technology plays a part.

A Volcano Beneath the Snow; Albert Marrin

A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown's War Against SlaveryA Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown's War Against Slavery by Albert Marrin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I gave this a generous 3 because the author does do a good job explaining the history of slavery, both here and in Africa, tying it in to the life of John Brown and how events affected and inspired him. This is an event that has been overlooked by most history teachers, and one that could realistically be called the true start to the Civil War. Brown's actions have inspired others, for better or worse.

But it truly is a generous 3 due to the factual errors, the author's use (only once, but still!) of the first person singular, the padding (we didn't need the history of the Civil War, but more on who was inspired by Brown would have been great) and the insertion of the author's feelings (a topic like this doesn't need an authorial voice saying "here's what you should think").

07 June 2014

2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas; Marie-Helene Bertino

2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not sure how I feel about the way in which the author played with the conceit of this being set during one 24-hour period: too much of the book was spent in flashbacks to explain the current action. It also felt a little too crowded with characters, three major and a few minors that felt intrusive because we got too many POVs.

Having said that, it was an interesting look at what was probably the last night at The Cat's Pajamas, a jazz club in Philadelphia. The main characters' lives intersect here, with Madeline (and her dead mother) as the connective thread. Why Madeline's last singing performance went so badly is never answered, but ultimately that doesn't matter. There are no truly happy endings here, just a lot of ambiguity as to what will happen the next day, or the next week.

ARC provided by publisher.

Marina; Carols Ruiz Zafon

MarinaMarina by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's unclear why this took so long to make it into translation but it's finally here!

There are borrowed horror elements (one character's last name is Shelley; readers can draw their own conclusions) but the mixture is done so well that it feels fresh. As for creep factor, it's there in spades. This is not a "read late at night" book for those who hear their house creaking and imagine a ghost at work! However, some rainy afternoon? Perfect.

Two quibbles that actually made this a 4.5, not a full 5: the lack of oversight on Oscar by his school teachers (working in a boarding school, it just didn't ring true) and the setting of the 1980s, which didn't seem to matter. Perhaps the latter is because of needing to time the initial events to postwar Barcelona, and then the author worked forward?

ARC provided by publisher.

Last Night at the Blue Angel; Rebecca Rotert

Last Night at the Blue Angel: A NovelLast Night at the Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The 60s in Chicago, the jazz scene, sexual ambiguity, "found" family, race relations: all of this is part of Sophia's life. Her mother, Naomi Hill, came from somewhere and has created a career singing jazz standards at the Blue Angel; along with this she's also built a family who take care of Sophia, her somewhat precocious daughter. Both Naomi and Sophia are very tolerant of other people's differences, the reasons for which are explained in flashbacks to Naomi's life "before".

This was nearly perfect, but the ending made me a little irritated. It's not just that I hoped for something different, but that I wanted a little more ambiguity with the ending. Sophia's lack of anger at her mother also bothered me some, hence the four not five stars.

ARC provided by publisher.

A Blind Spot for Boys; Justina Chen

A Blind Spot for BoysA Blind Spot for Boys by Justina Chen
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

While I liked the author's last book (North of Beautiful), this one just failed: it's a Harlequin romance for teens, less meaty than a Sarah Dessen(!!) and just so predictable. Still, two stars because I'm sure teens won't care: it's a summer romance book.

ARC provided by publisher.

Illusive; Emily Lloyd-Jones

IllusiveIllusive by Emily Lloyd-Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a future virtually destroyed by a virus, the cure has created a population of "immunes", people with superpowers. Some can levitate, others have great hearing, a few can control minds, and Ciere is an "illusive" (someone who can camouflage themselves and surroundings). That's one part of the plot, these immunes and their abilities. The other plot is essentially a heist caper, only the prize isn't quite what everyone thinks it is.

The good is that this isn't a huge dystopian story or one that has districts or groups that compete. The bad is that I'm not sure the blend of heist/superpowers is working as well as it could. Clearly this is the start of a series (no idea if there'll only be a sequel or it's a trilogy, but there is a cliffhanger ending... draw your own conclusions). I also wasn't impressed with the shift in POV, but again, perhaps that'll work itself out in the next book.

ARC provided by publisher.