31 December 2014

Monstrous Affections; Kelly Link

Monstrous Affections: An Anthology of Beastly TalesMonstrous Affections: An Anthology of Beastly Tales by Kelly Link
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've read books about about half the authors in this collection and, while I appreciated their contributions, there was nothing surprising here. The other authors were good enough for me to keep an eye out for their other works to see how they hold up in a longer format. Because teens don't seem to read story collections, this will be a hard sell; the bigger disappointment is that I just don't see this collection having a lot of staying power in libraries. Maybe I'll be wrong.

Extremities; David Lubar

Extremities: Stories of Death, Murder, and RevengeExtremities: Stories of Death, Murder, and Revenge by David Lubar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Maybe I was just in the mood for these creepy stories, or that there's a certain sensibility here that I responded to but, well, this collection was so much fun to read! The creepy factor isn't so high that you can't read this late at night (well, for me, anyway, but I have a high tolerance for these things), but it's definitely there. Some of the stories reminded me of urban legends (or vague remakes of, say, The Haunting of Hill House), albeit ones with a little twist that made them uniquely Lubar's.

The Cure for Dreaming; Cat Winters

The Cure for DreamingThe Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wasn't thrilled with the mixture of nascent feminism (the right to vote figures largely, ditto independent women) and the occult (the mesmerism, Dracula). If the author was trying to make the point that the male-dominated society of 1800s Oregon was sucking the life-blood out of the women, well... she made it. Quite strongly. Maybe a little less stridency would have been better? I did love the photos!

He Said, She Said; Kwame Alexander

He Said, She SaidHe Said, She Said by Kwame Alexander
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of the problems with books written in the "now" is the use of slang and popular culture which can age a book prematurely. In the case of this book, I can see it both aging the book (in the next year or so) but also providing a great slice-of-life that teens can read to see what life was like now. Some of the issues will most likely still be around (school funding, teen abortion) and the way in which these teens take on those issues is interesting; the relationships between the girls and boys, both within peer groups and cross-gender are representative of those relationships since teens started hanging out together. There's nothing particularly surprising about this book, but the two voices are more distinct than other books I've read recently that share this alternating chapter narration m.o. (always a good thing!).

26 December 2014

Nicola and the Viscount; Meg Cabot

Nicola and the ViscountNicola and the Viscount by Meg Cabot
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A loaner from one of my students, who was almost ashamed to admit she read books like this. What's to be embarrassed by? If you like Sarah Dessen, Sarah Perkins or other modern teen romances, there's nothing wrong with enjoying a Regency version!

Wildlife; Fiona Wood

WildlifeWildlife by Fiona Wood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another book that there's So. Much. Love. for that I sort-of get, but not totally. The growth that Sib undergoes is nothing surprising, right down to her realization about her friends and so-called friends. Lou's grief feels natural, particularly the not being able to move forward part, as does her eventually being able to do so as she makes friends who never knew Fred. If only there'd been something a little surprising here!

And what's with the alternating chapter narration? Was there a memo I missed that authors/publishers got? Maintaining separate voices is difficult work, and here the two start to converge so that by the end it wasn't always clear who was "speaking".

The Ring and the Crown; Melissa de la Cruz

The Ring and the Crown (The Ring and the Crown, #1)The Ring and the Crown by Melissa de la Cruz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm usually a huge fan of the Merlin/Arthur legend and its updates but here I was left lukewarm. The alternative history, where the British Empire never fell, including keeping both America and France as part of that upon which the sun never sets, could have been really interesting; instead, we're left with a few comments here and there as the focus is really on what will happen with Marie-Victoria and her upcoming marriage to Leopold of Prussia. Add to that the chapters narrated by Isabella and Aelwyn and you get a bit more of the problem. As the start to a series, it felt like the author was padding a little at the expense of things like Avalon, or the invisible orders.

Don't Even Think About It; Sarah Mlynowski

Don't Even Think About ItDon't Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From the setting (Tribeca, public HS with private HS pretensions) to the characters to the premise, this was fun. What would you do if you woke up and realized you could hear the thoughts of everyone around you? Yes, there'd be good things (easy to cheat on tests), but there would also be really bad stuff (like what people really think of you) - it's great that we get both here. And that there are struggles with the ethics just made it better. Still, teenage angst is just teenage angst and there's not much one can do with that to make it stand out.

King Dork Approximately; Frank Portman

King Dork ApproximatelyKing Dork Approximately by Frank Portman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There were moments here that made me chuckle, which is always good. And Tom is certainly a believable and interesting main character, with a good teen voice. But... if you haven't read King Dork, there's a lot here that won't necessarily make sense; a little more work would have made that problem go away. The band names were hysterical (I Hate This Jar being my personal fave) and and the glossary in the back impressive. Not sure I agree with Tom's ranking of certain groups or albums but, well, whatever, nevermind.

Gameworld; Christopher John Farley

GameworldGameworld by Christopher John Farley
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The main premise (that a video game is real) has been done before, and done better. What made this different, and a little interesting, was the interjection of Caribbean and African mythology. Even better? The back matter for readers who want to learn more about the inspirations.

Stolen; Melissa de la Cruz

StolenStolen by Melissa de la Cruz
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Even more derivative than the first book. And far too many spoken passages that ended with "he bit out" or "she said bitterly" (for example). Only for fans of Book One.

To All the Boys I've Loved Before; Jenny Han

To All the Boys I've Loved Before (To All the Boys I've Loved Before, #1)To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm not sure why this is the first in a series, but it is. As a stand-alone it works well - a younger sister's "revenge" on her older sister (mailing letters that were never meant to be sent, or read by the addressee) seems like something any younger sister would do. The growing distance between Margot and Lara Jean is also very real, something that often happens as one sister leaves for college. I enjoyed this slice of Lara's life, her confusion about life and growth as she becomes the female head of the household. Which leads to the question, what more do we need? Guess we'll find out next book.

The Madman of Piney Woods

The Madman of Piney WoodsThe Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you loved Elijah of Buxton you'll enjoy this chance to revisit the town and see what happens 40 years later. If you didn't love Elijah it's probably because you haven't read it yet - so go do so after you read this companion novel. It doesn't matter, really, which order you read them in.

The titular Madman is, of course, isn't as Big and Scary as a one might assume from the title; he is, on the other hand, a necessary means to bring the two main characters together. As a work of historical fiction this is less jarringly "other", and the adventures the boys have will seem familiar to adults reading this with their middle grade readers.

Frozen; Melissa de la Cruz

Frozen (Heart of Dread, #1)Frozen by Melissa de la Cruz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A frozen world, with a possible safe place that includes magic. Magical creatures hunted by humans. Society run by military masters and little choice for movement. Yep. Been there, read that. Oh, and did I mention the alternating chapter narration? Despite that, I know there are many teens who will truly enjoy this trilogy.

How It Went Down; Kekla Magoon

How It Went DownHow It Went Down by Kekla Magoon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading this just after the events in Ferguson and St. Louis, with police protests still raging, was challenging. The narrative of who shot Tariq and why (did he have a gun? was he in a gang? or was it all a terrible mistake?) depends on position in the neighborhood more than anything. It's easy to see how the real life events can be equally confused and conflicted.

Press Play; Eric Devine

Press PlayPress Play by Eric Devine
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So few characters in YA are fat, and here - once again - we have an obese guy (two, actually) who wants to lose weight and change his life. The reason for his overeating is his pushy, enabling mother who feeds him wonderfully fat-filled meals and who gets upset when he wants to lose and "get healthy".

It would have been a good thing for the book to have focused more on that but no, we have the other scourge of high school: bullying. It's team-based hazing, administration approved and fostered. Of course Greg and his two friends, Quinn and Ollie, along with the only girl in school who will talk to him, Ella, take on the status quo. No surprises on who wins. I guess lacrosse is considered the go-to sport for serious hazing, based on real-world events.

Rebels by Accident; Patricia Dunn

Rebels by AccidentRebels by Accident by Patricia Dunn
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Very nearly a DNF, but I'm rounding up from 1.5 stars. The plot is so very, very predictable and the only redeeming thing is that the target audience probably doesn't really remember the Arab Spring or know much about what was going on in Egypt at that time. Of course, more could have been done with that but, well... hence the nearly DNF.

Sisters; Raina Telgemeier

SistersSisters by Raina Telgemeier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Despite graphic novels not being my thing, I do enjoy Telgemeier's work. In this case, if you subtract the (eventually) annoying younger brother, this could have been me and my sister at times during our 1972 cross-country road trip with our parents.

Bruiser; Neal Shusterman

BruiserBruiser by Neal Shusterman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is vaguely in the realm of fantasy, with our lead male having a superpower of sorts (the ability to take others pain, from emotional to physical, away from them). Of course this has led to a life relatively isolated from all except his abusive uncle and his careless younger brother... until, of course, he meets a lovely young girl and starts to have a real relationship with her, her brother and her family. The questions posed (eg., will he survive being with "normal" people?) are not as interesting as the larger ideas of overwhelming empathy and its effect on people. Ok, maybe that was my bigger issue and not the author's.

The best part was that even with the overlay of Bruiser's, um, ability? power? quirk? the teen voices were all very real; the adults, on the other hand, were less so.

Trigger Warning; Neil Gaiman

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and DisturbancesTrigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What can I say? Gaiman's latest collection is a winner. Even the introduction, in which he delivers his "trigger warning" detailing what we'll find in each story... just in case, of course... is wonderful. These are adult stories, so not for the reader looking for another Coraline or Graveyard Book, but not as heavy as his other adult books. I'm going to call this adult fiction, because he does cover a few genres here (in other words, something for every reader).

ARC provided by publisher.

Let It Snow; Holly Hobbie

Toot & Puddle: Let It SnowToot & Puddle: Let It Snow by Holly Hobbie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cute story of two friends trying to buy Christmas gifts for each other. It's a series, and the message here is subtle but still there. Still, the young 'uns enjoyed it, so comes recommended.

The Doubt Factory; Paolo Bacigalupi

The Doubt FactoryThe Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Unlike his previous books, this is set today, in a very recognizable Connecticut (even the prep school sounds familiar). The problem is that while they had a message, they felt less strident because of the future setting. The message here is that there are Big Bad Drug Companies profiting by seeding doubt in the minds of the FDA and juries, raking in the money while people die. It's not a bad message, one that students might need to hear or research as part of learning to evaluate information critically. It's more that that surrounding story doesn't do it justice, yet we get hit over the head with it several times.

The other problem I had was with Alix' conversion. It happens rather quickly, sort of like Kate's "taming" (one of my least favorite transformations in Shakespeare). For some reason it just doesn't feel plausible that she would move from defending her father to conspiring against him so easily, and with so little input from 2.0. Maybe more information, a longer period of "is he? isn't he?" would have worked better.

Steelheart; Brandon Sanderson

Steelheart (Reckoners, #1)Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Yet another post-normal world, this one frozen. There are alien (or perhaps just humans with some supernatural power) overlords and human rebels. Perhaps at another time this might have appealed, but at the moment it just is derivative and, well, DNF.

100 Sideways Miles; Andrew Smith

100 Sideways Miles100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Maybe it's me - there's a lot of love for this book, but I just don't see it. I liked Finn, but his obsession with how far the Earth travels every second (or year, or hour) got to me. Cade was more annoying, not because of the sex but because he seemed to be just one dimension. He never grew during the book, while Finn does seem to. The bigger problem for me was that the book Finn is not quite sure he didn't come from is supposed to be so important, yet plays a lesser role. Maybe I was expecting more of a fictionalized version of what Christopher Robin Milne went through with his father's books?

Of Monsters and Madness; Jessica Verday

Of Monsters and Madness (Of Monsters and Madness, #1)Of Monsters and Madness by Jessica Verday
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Think Gothic-lite. This retelling of a Poe tale (except, not really a Poe story as much as inserting references to Poe into a version of Jeckyl & HydeThe Madman's Daughter or, you know, the source material (or even Hyde).

An Ember in the Ashes; Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the AshesAn Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another trilogy, written in alternating voices, set in a world with an invading/conquering military power that has overrun a more artistic, peaceful, scholarly people. What set this apart from others (see, for example, The Winner's Curse) is that the writing is a little better, with fewer clenching hearts, and the potential love triangle is done well. While neither Laia's nor Enis' lives hold many surprises, it will be interesting to see what happens in the next book.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Half Brother; Holly LeCraw

The Half Brother: A NovelThe Half Brother: A Novel by Holly LeCraw
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The setting really seems to matter less than the blurbage promises. This could be any small town, the boarding school part means little. Do faculty/student attractions happen? Yes (although one hopes they stay intellectual, not crossing the line). But what happens later, after the student graduates? Well... it still feels weird. The May/Charlie relationship feels weird to Charlie, too, but it's the disclosure of Family Secrets that drives them apart. And those Family Secrets? No real secret to any one with a grounding in the Southern Gothic school of secrets.

Having said that, the writing is engrossing enough to make this a good winter snow day read.

ARC provided by publisher.

Fog Island Mountains; Michelle Bailat-Jones

Fog Island MountainsFog Island Mountains by Michelle Bailat-Jones>
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Usually, quiet books are a pleasant change from the dystopias and murder mysteries, but this was too quiet. Perhaps it was the constantly changing points-of-view? Whatever, this was a DNF.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Book with No Pictures; B.J. Novak

The Book with No PicturesThe Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the best ways to see if a new picture book works is to read it to a group of kids - this was a huge hit with the group I read it to (the adults were laughing as well). The gimmick is that there are no pictures, but the words are just as powerful and the reader must (MUST!) read exactly what's written. Clever, but not overly so.

Copy provided by publisher.

When Cricket Was Little; Margaret Rowlett

When Cricket Was LittleWhen Cricket Was Little by Margaret Rowlett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What is it about children's books written back when I was a kid? There's something so... comforting about them. Maybe it's because there's no real message there (unlike many today's books, which either have a message or are trying to teach kids)? Anyway, they're fun to read and while I don't remember what it was like to learn to read, there's something about them that makes me feel like a kid again.

The Winner's Crime; Marie Rutkowski

The Winner's Crime (The Winner's Trilogy, #2)The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Middle books usually suffer because there's a lot of padding. That isn't exactly the case here, but there's something a little off. It's a good continuation of the series, and I particularly liked Arin's trip to (better description of that world, but not by much). The romance part is less than in the first book, which made it easier for the author to allow the characters to move about in their worlds. As for the proposed marriage? I wonder. If the author is going for predictable in Book Three, the Emporer will die before it happens and Arin/Kestrel will live happily ever after. The other surprise will be to see if Verex really is as unfit as the Emporer thinks he is. Here's hoping for unpredictable.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Winner's Curse; Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy, #1)The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The start of a trilogy? Quel surprise. For those who love strong women, twarted romance, etc., this is going to be a good read. For me? Well... I didn't mind the setting, but the chapters continually alternating between Arin and Kestrel got a bit annoying. The world building was a little slight, possibly because this world mimics others we've been in so the author might not have felt as though there was a lot of world building necessary. The best part was that what appeared at first to be possibly leading to a love triangle didn't.

25 December 2014

Dime; E.R. Frank

DimeDime by E.R. Frank
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Difficult to read, but lost points because it was a little too contrived, too Big Message.

Teenage prostitution is something we hear about, but never imagine it'll happen to us or someone we know. Dime makes it clear that it could happen, and how easily. All it takes is someone more willing to be friendly, kind, even loving to a young girl feeling unloved and with no place to go. That's the difficult part, and how Dime's life falls apart is heartbreaking to read. Having said that, there were moments when I had a strong Go Ask Alice feeling, where it was a little too much of a message and thus lost some of its impact.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Alex Crow; Andrew Smith

The Alex CrowThe Alex Crow by Andrew Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This could have been a much stronger book had there been one less thing in it. The proximate future we're in here includes bionics, high-tech warfare and yet it's also familiar, with sectarian strife in the Middle East and small-town, backwoods people. Having the majority of this set in a "recovery" camp (for either tech-addicts or overeaters, depending on the session) and a long-ago Antarctic expedition doesn't help. To be honest, I skipped the journal entries.

ARC provided by publisher.

Morning Noon Night; Dorothy Wilson

Morning Noon / NightMorning Noon / Night by Dorothy Wilson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have the best friends: one loaned me her copy of these books (three, in a tiny slipcover) and, well, now I have to find them for myself. These are simple, old-fashioned stories about morning, noon and night from the point-of-view of a little girl, somewhat Good Night, Moon-esque in its approach.

Silently, the Cat, and Miss Theodosia; Felice Holman

Silently, the Cat, and Miss TheodosiaSilently, the Cat, and Miss Theodosia by Felice Holman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This reminded me in some ways of Mr. Widdle and the Sea Breeze - older person, stuck in their ways, learning to live a little. Of course there are differences, in that Miss Theodosia does live, albeit at night. These vignettes (it's not quite a story) are charming and if you're lucky enough to find a copy - grab it.

I'm Glad I Did; Cynthia Weil

I'm Glad I DidI'm Glad I Did by Cynthia Weil
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Real promise here, given the author's background, but ultimately turns into a standard-fare YA novel. There's some coming-of-age here, with JJ finding her voice and learning how to stand up to her family, and some interesting "behind the scenes" stuff about how the Brill Building worked back in the day. Had there been more of the music, less of the coincidence about who was whose parent and trying to right old wrongs, this would have been a far stronger book.

ARC provided by publisher.

Killing Time in Crystal City; Chris Lynch

Killing Time in Crystal CityKilling Time in Crystal City by Chris Lynch
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I didn't get the point of this book - it just seemed like a bunch of ideas (teen running away to the Black Sheep Uncle, teens living on the fringes of society, teens skateboarding, bad relationships with parents) and blended into a story of sorts. Almost a DNF, but I did skim most without losing too much of the thread.

ARC provided by publisher.