30 July 2014

Hold the Dark; William Giraldi

Hold the DarkHold the Dark by William Giraldi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ok, the ending? I was surprised: didn't see that one coming. Looking back, I probably should have (there were clues... I just ignored them). Alaska really does seem like a different place, with a very different view of 'outsider' than the rest of the forty-eight. Cheeon and Vernon's friendship was... words fail me. How anyone does what Cheeon does because of friendship? Surely there was more. As for Cole and Marium, I liked the partnership.

In a weird way this reminded me of Haruf's work because the writing was relatively sparse. No lengthy passages of explication, instead there's a lot held back that adds to the tension and atmosphere.

ARC provided by publisher.

I'll Give You the Sun; Jandy Nelson

I'll Give You the SunI'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's difficult to know what to say about this: at times both voices are incredible, but when Jude's the voice that you want to hear, Noah's voice isn't as strong and vice-versa. If only only they'd talked, or listened, to each other.

As for plot, the Big Twist was no surprise but it was well done. And the pain that both Noah and Jude feel? Very, very real in different ways. Still, despite the writing and the voices, there was nothing new here.

ARC provided by publisher.

28 July 2014

Good Grief; Ellen Stimson

Good Grief: Life in a Tiny Vermont Village Starring One Dead Guy, Some Naked People, and Quite the Little House FireGood Grief: Life in a Tiny Vermont Village Starring One Dead Guy, Some Naked People, and Quite the Little House Fire by Ellen Stimson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ms. Stimson is an engaging author, which probably accounts for why this book was published. Unlike most books about death/coping with death, this has no deep lessons, no deep insights. Instead we have humor, quirky people and events, and a death that, while it does effect her family, doesn't seem to do so so deeply that she can't write about it lightly. I did find her thoughts about Vermont and Vermonters to be reasonably accurate (speaking as a flatlander with family in the NEK).

ARC provided by publisher.

Rooms; Lauren Oliver

RoomsRooms by Lauren Oliver
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Oh, how I wanted more creepiness, more horror, more of a gothic feel! This was horror-lite, which relatively benign ghosts and a troubled family. The deep secrets that supposedly Must Be Revealed so that everyone can have a happy life (or death, in the case of Alice and Sandra) aren't really deep secrets. With one exception, they're all just mistakes or depression or something other than what they're being built up to be. It was also disappointing that everyone seemed to be somehow connected (Sandra befriends Minna, Alice's daughter, for example). The only character I liked was Trenton and only because he was less objectionable than anyone else.

ARC provided by publisher.

Badger Knight; Kathryn Erskine

The Badger KnightThe Badger Knight by Kathryn Erskine
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Good historical fiction, a little PC in places but younger readers won't notice. And was Badger an albino or not? At times he's described as being one, but it's never clear.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Future for Curious People; Gregory Sherl

The Future for Curious People: A NovelThe Future for Curious People: A Novel by Gregory Sherl
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rather typical rom-com with one difference: the "envisioning" process. Unfortunately, that's what lost me, because the explanation of how it worked and what it did was so implausible. As for the characters, well, let's just call them stereotypes and have done with.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Vampires of Manhattan; Melissa de la Cruz

The Vampires of Manhattan (Vampires of Manhattan, #1)The Vampires of Manhattan by Melissa de la Cruz
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Despite this being the first in the series, there's a lot of reliance on the previous books (Blue Bloods) - so why is this a new series? Beats me. As vampire books go, this was less about blood than it was a sort of murder mystery, mixed with vampire politics and high society. So, not a good read for anyone looking for a "real" vampire book (having said that, not every vampire book needs to be dark; just look at Yarbro's St. Germaine Chronicles). The problem for me was that this just felt slight, without enough to keep me interested in the world or characters.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Magician's Land; Lev Grossman

The Magician's Land (The Magicians, #3)The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Perfect ending, and in many ways the best of the trilogy.

I know this is supposed to be "Harry Potter meets Narnia" but there are other glimpses, like Buffy, Discworld and even a little Christopher Robin, in there. That's part of the enjoyment, for me: playing spot-the-allusion. Quentin's banishment from Fillory and return to Brakebills, along with the death of his father, were great boy-becoming-man moments, although even as a man he doesn't seem to be, well, emotionally an adult. His partnership with Plum was a good balance, and perhaps his best relationship (but not a "relationship") with any female. And the library/map of Fillory? I want to be one of the monks tending to the collection. With or without golden hands.

The ending to the Fillory story is disappointing, but understandable. On the other hand, the Neitherlands could be a great entry to other worlds...

ARC provided by publisher.

Bombay Blues; Tanuja Desai Hidier

Bombay BluesBombay Blues by Tanuja Desai Hidier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The clash of cultural expectations that permeates Bombay Blues is interesting: the more modern (aka "raised/living in America") Dimple, Karsh, Kavita and Dimple's parents versus the traditional (aka "stayed in India") Sangita, Flip, Deepak and Sangita's parents. Karsh's DJ-ing in NYC includes bahngra, which is not what the clubbers in Mumbai/Bombay want to hear is a problem... Sangita's arranged marriage that will keep her from persuing her art studies is a problem... Kavita's lesbianism is a problem... and there are many others. They're handled deftly here, albeit with too-neat wrapping up towards the end.

It was, sometimes, difficult to remember that Dimple was 19 because she seemed to be a very young 19, making her choices regarding Karsh and Cowboy a little questionable. I found that repeating "she's 19" helped.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Fourteenth Goldfish; Jennifer L. Holm

The Fourteenth GoldfishThe Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a great book for the girl who is just a little different, but not in the artsy/quirky way. Unlike her drama teacher mom, Ellie isn't convinced that being a theatre geek is for her - she doesn't know what is for her until her suddenly-12-again grandfather moves in and introduces her to science. As she moves away from her younger self, and former BFF, towards a better idea of who she is, what she wants to do, and how to make friends, Ellie changes in ways that are very real for her age.

There's great humor here, as well as a gentle insertion of scientific principles (the fruit/seed discussion, for example) that may encourage girls to explore a "boy interest". The best part is that there isn't a heavy-handed "STEM is good for girls, too" message. Bonus: boys and girls can be friends!

ARC provided by publisher.

Traitor's Blade; Sebastian de Castell

Traitor's Blade (Greatcoats, #1)Traitor's Blade by Sebastien de Castell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I could see this being the perfect "next read" for readers who loved the Ranger's Apprentice series (among others) - decent world building, lots of action, strong sense of Justice and Right. The most interesting character for me was the Tailor, and sadly there was too little of her.

Sadly, the book didn't quite live up to its promise in that the flashbacks were, well, too frequent and too long. A few pages of prologue might have been a better choice. And then there was Falcio's "anger issue" which only appeared when convenient for the author, not when it truly would have been convenient.

Still, readers looking for less fantasy and more fighting will appreciate this, and the next book, which will need far less backstory exposition, might really be something.

ARC provided by publisher.

Sway; Kat Spears

SwaySway by Kat Spears
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Sway" is that quality of easing the way, making things happen for other people. Jesse is the epitome of that quality, hence it becoming his nickname. Even the principal of his high school needs some of Sway's special brand of help.

So far, so good. Jesse's realization that he wants something different, to be someone else, feels real. The hijinks that ensue don't always feel that way: there are too many coincidences (which, of course, is the whole point of having "sway") and people who buy in to Jesse's convoluted schemes. Hence the four stars. Just once I wanted it to not work, whereas by the end, everything does and life goes merrily on. But that's me, YMMV.

ARC provided by publisher.

18 July 2014

Mort(e); Robert Repino

MorteMorte by Robert Repino
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book should come with a warning: if you share a home with four-legged companions, watch out. I spent a lot of time assuring mine that they were much beloved members of my family, not "slaves".

To be honest, I've never been a huge fan of animals-as-people adult books (eg, Watership Down), although the Thornton Burgess books are among my childhood favorites. But Mort(e) is not one of "those" books - it's a riveting read, with Sebastian/Mort(e) as a flawed hero. His love, and search, for Sheba is inspirational and rings so true. The ending was a little messy, with a ton of action that doesn't really seem to fit with the previous pacing and tone; as climactic battle scenes go, it's a good one.

One of the things I loved most was the sense Mort(e) had that no group, not the ants, nor the animals, nor the humans, would ever get it "right" and that society (made up of whatever species) was fatally flawed. His only lodestar was Sheba, and one hopes that at the end, they live happily ever after.

ARC provided by publisher.

16 July 2014

The Great Glass Sea; Josh Weil

The Great Glass SeaThe Great Glass Sea by Josh Weil
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Despite this going on far too long (about 1/3 could have been cut and this would have easily been a 5 star), I enjoyed entering this world. Even the interspersed (untranslated) Russian words didn't disrupt the read, nor did it feel as pretentious as it does in, say, a Cara Black mystery.

The Great Glass Sea is a gigantic, city-sized greenhouse created by a Russian oligarch, making use of an array of solar panels that reflect the sun back at the earth so there's no differential between night and day, thus increasing productivity and the ability for humans to work around the clock. It would have been a better read had that disruption been explored a little more, but the overriding theme here is the battle between (failed) Communism and Capitalism. The twins and how their lives diverge is almost like that of the brothers in Lahiri's The Lowland, and once again it's difficult to tell whose life is the better.

ARC provided by publisher.

Last Train to Babylon; Charlee Fam

Last Train to Babylon: A NovelLast Train to Babylon: A Novel by Charlee Fam
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Close to a DNF... very close. Unlikeable character? Supposed mystery about Why Rachel Did It? Too much alcohol-fueled bad decision making? Yep all all three counts. And I sincerely hope that the editors/author review the name of the town: SeaPORT is not a town on Long Island, SeaFORD is.

ARC provided by publisher.

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands; Chris Bohjalian

Close Your Eyes, Hold HandsClose Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Why is this book being released as Adult? It's got so much teen appeal - the characters, the situation, the writing - that it just seems a natural fit for that market.

When I was much younger, I saw "The China Syndrome" mere days before the Three Mile Island meltdown, and recently, living near Indian Point and hearing all the fuss about it and its future (particularly in the face of the Fukushima Daiichi leak, this really resonated. There are a lot of good things about nuclear power, and a lot of bad things. Luckily, little time is spent here on those issues; instead the action centers on the life of Emily post-accident at a fictional plant in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. It's not an easy life, particularly given that her parents (specifically her father) may have been responsible for the problem, and perhaps that's why it's an Adult book: there are drugs, prostitution and homelessness involved. Still, given other books that have been written for YAs...

On a personal note, I loved the description of the NEK (I have family up there).

ARC provided by publisher.

Just Call My Name; Holly Goldberg Sloan

Just Call My Name (I'll Be There #2)Just Call My Name by Holly Goldberg Sloan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's to the author's credit I didn't realize this was a sequel until fairly late in the read - there was some Previously... but it really didn't feel like that!

The focus here on what family is, what loyalty and friendship are is impressive. It really does make one think about how one defines all three, particularly when home/family may not be the safest or easiest place to be. Less impressive was the series of coincidences that had to happen to make the Big Crisis happen. Had there actually been a manhunt, or even an awareness that there was a problem that might involve the Bells, Sam and Riddle.

ARC provided by publisher.

11 July 2014

Rainey Royal; Dylan Landis

Rainey RoyalRainey Royal by Dylan Landis
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Very nearly a DNF; despite the great things I heard about this, I didn't understand why it was set in the 1970s nor did I find anything likeable about Rainey. There are times when unlikeable main characters still lead to great books, ones that make you think but here? Not so much. If only we'd gotten more about her art, or some reason to live in her world.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Story Hour; Thrity Umrigar

The Story Hour: A NovelThe Story Hour: A Novel by Thrity Umrigar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I liked the book, much as I liked The Weight of Heaven. Instead of Americans in India, we have Indians in America, a husband-and-wife who are miserably married and an Indian husband/African-American wife who are happy. Or are they? Throughout the book we learn of their histories, as Maddie treats Lakshmi, trying to prevent another suicide attempt and give her a life worth living. Why Maddie breaks every rule of therapy is never clear, but the effect of those decisions are tragic. Or, again, maybe not.

Perhaps that's why I like Umrigar's books: unlikeable characters, impossible situations, but you have to stop and think because they feel so very real, as though you might meet a Maddie, or a Lakshmi, one day. Even better, the ending is ambiguous, leaving the reader to decide what happens.

ARC provided by publisher.

Murder on the Ile Sordou; M.L. Longworth

Murder on the Ile Sordou: A Verlaque and Bonnet Proven├žal MysteryMurder on the Ile Sordou: A Verlaque and Bonnet Proven├žal Mystery by M. L. Longworth
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Maybe the blurb needs to be rewritten: this isn't a true locked room (or, more accurately, isolated island) mystery. Yes, there's a storm, but it doesn't keep people from the island for terribly long. And the whodunnit part could have been bumped up while the other stuff, like the number of times we're told that Verlaque has money - a lot, tons, a veritable fortune - could have been lessened. It's also obvious that the author is trying too hard to infuse the series with French flavor; by explaining or translating everything, it just highlights the cultural issues rather than gently inserts them.

ARC provided by publisher.

Mortal Danger; Ann Aguirre

Mortal Danger (Immortal Game, #1)Mortal Danger by Ann Aguirre
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So close... so very close. Maybe it's the fact that this is multivolume, so there are passages that just drag, while others speed along because we have to get to a climax/cliffhanger to keep readers hooked? or maybe it's the half-baked explanations and plot twits? Hard to know. Or maybe, just maybe, it was because I didn't really like or care for Edie.

The take-off on Faust was great, as was the "Wolfram & Hart"-esque firm that Kian works for. The game? Not quite sure what that was about. And of course Edie was going to have some second thoughts once she started to actually getting to know the Teflon crowd - if only something interesting had been done with that.

ARC provided by publisher.

Unmade; Sarah Rees Brennan

Unmade (The Lynburn Legacy, #3)Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A generous 3 - really somewhere just over 2 stars. Why? Passages that went on, repetitively, for too long, and the banter between characters that seems forced. Beyond forced, actually. Assuming this world is real, there's no way they'd be joking quite that much given the situation. And that situation? A love triangle that's essentially stillborn, except it's maybe really a question of he and he and he love her? None of the characters made me root for them, except perhaps Lillian (and I did enjoy Jon's neverending stream of L-names). Sigh.

ARC provided by publisher.

Vader's Little Princess; Jeffrey Brown

Vader's Little PrincessVader's Little Princess by Jeffrey Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ok, not a "I must read this again" five-star, more of a "fun, silly read" five-star. Definitely for those who loved Eddie Izzard's Star Wars Canteen routine.

Midnight Thief; Livia Blackburne

Midnight Thief (Midnight Thief, #1)Midnight Thief by Livia Blackburne
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Once again, a story diminished by being stretched into a trilogy. This semi-medieval society, one with no technology but surrounded by something "different" (creatures/people who can shapechange, and who knows what beyond the mountains) was relatively familiar, as were the characters. The most promising idea, the Assassins Guild, disappointed because it didn't do anything different. And then there's the potential love triangle I can just see creeping in over the next book... Having said that, middle grade readers looking for a new Pierce or Wynne Jones will be happy. So there is that.

ARC provided by publisher.

02 July 2014

The Lewis Man; Peter May

The Lewis Man (Lewis Trilogy, #2)The Lewis Man by Peter May
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I read The Black House I knew I wanted to read more by Peter May... now I've read the second of his "Isle of Lewis" mysteries and need to finish the trilogy. As with Camilla Lackburg's books, each story has a modern mystery that is dependent on older information, an older story, to be solved.

In this case, Fin MacLeod has quit his job with the Edinburg police, divorced his wife and moved back to his parents decrepit croft, thinking to make some sort of life on Lewis. In the previous book, he reestablished relations with Marsaili and learned he was the father of her child - so now what? Well, there's a bog body that turns out to not be thousands of years old but somewhat more recent and related to Marsaili's now-demented father. The local policeman, Gunn, asks Fin for his (extremely unofficial) help and the result is an exploration of Scotland's sectarian issues, life on the Hebrides and personal identity.

It's that last that really intrigued me, as an adoptee and as someone who has seen others change their names and try to start over as a new person. Did John/Donald John/Tormond really succeed or, in the end, was he still the same person he was as a child?

ARC provided by publisher.

01 July 2014

My Zombie Hamster; Havelock McCreely

My Zombie HamsterMy Zombie Hamster by Havelock McCreely
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Zombie hamsters? Well, if Bunnicula exists, why can't Anti-Snuffles? As one would expect, there's a lot of humor here (the Kilgore Dallas character may not makes sense to the target age group, because they won't have seen "Pulp Fiction", but adults will chuckle).

ARC provided by publisher.

Sinner; Maggie Steifvater

Sinner (The Wolves of Mercy Falls #3.5)Sinner by >Maggie Stiefvater
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great extension of the Mercy Falls series, with just enough "you should read the previous trilogy". By that I mean, if you haven't read the other books it will still make sense but if you have you'll get just that little bit more out of it.

Cole's relationship with Isabel is fraught in ways that felt real, even without the whole werewolf thing (which really doesn't play a large role in the book). Is he really in LA because of her? Or is it the Baby North show that's more appealing? Until the end, readers will be unsure which is really the motivation for Cole.

The loss of a star (perhaps unfair?) is because there were a few too many whiffs, for me, of Where She Went and Espedair Street, and I wanted more Leon.

ARC provided by publisher.

High and Dry; Sarah Skilton

High and DryHigh and Dry by lton">Sarah Skilton
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There was too much that felt coincidental or forced here. The extreme stratification of the school didn't resemble any school I've known, and the nicknames for each group? Very forced. Surely there'd be some inside jokes among them. As for the plot, there were times we were supposed to believe that Charlie is incredibly naive yet at others he's supposed to be savvy about the social stratification. The search for the flash drive felt forced, and the whole Ryder subplot was just added for drama and could have been left out.

ARC provided by publisher.

Afterworlds; Scott Westerfeld

AfterworldsAfterworlds by Scott Westerfeld
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There were moments when I really loved this, and moments when I thought it needed work. Example? Darcy, the 18-year-old writer, felt like the author had a character checklist he went through as he created her (lesbian? check. non-white? check. insecure? check.). Another example? Darcy's sister, supposedly 14, was one of those "overly wise beyond her years" types. The budget Darcy has, with $3500/month in rent and then $17/day for food was completely unrealistic: what happened to utilities?

The insidery bits about debut writers and the YA literature scene, including questions about appropriating outsider culture/mythology when you're not part of that culture, may give readers something to think about. At times, like during the YA drinks scene, readers will feel like a fly on the wall in the characters lives. The novel (written during NaNoWriMo but for some reason that's never named, it's only "November") Darcy writes is also promising. If only the original mythology of Yama had been explored. And the relationship Darcy has with Gen, as well her reactions to the other YA lit stars, are very realistic. Still, the pacing and the humor will appeal and leave readers wanting more.

ARC provided by publisher.