31 December 2015

Walk on Earth a Stranger; Rae Carson

Walk on Earth a Stranger  (The Gold Seer Trilogy, #1)Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm being generous by rounding up from 2.5: the incredibly slow pace just did me in. A part of me enjoyed the trip, but anyone who remembers the Oregon Trail game will find this familiar. And gold dowsing (if I can call it that) wasn't as exciting as it sounds.

Pig Park; Claudia Guadalupe Martinez

Pig ParkPig Park by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Chicag0-based coming-of-age story? Sounds interesting, right? The setting and Masi are so clearly drawn, particularly the despair she feels at not just "normal" changes but at the larger ones of her school closing down and the neighborhood dying. It was the when they started building the pyramid that they lost me: how anyone thought this would revitalize an area required a suspension of belief that I just couldn't manage.

The Bones Beneath

The Bones Beneath (Tom Thorne, #12)The Bones Beneath by Mark Billingham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maybe it's me, but this felt like the author didn't quite want to write a mystery but didn't know what else to do with the characters. We've met everyone before, and there's lots of referring to previous books/cases/events during the course of somehow moving this forward. The problem is that the movement is very, very slow despite a fairly fast start (an abduction and torture, but of whom? and why?). Setting this on a remote island is a variation on the locked room mystery, yet here we know we haven't met everyone so that felt like a loophole and lessened the impact of the setting. What worries me about this series is that the pattern of demoting Tom, promoting Tom and so forth will now be accompanied by lesser plots.

29 December 2015

Westley; Bryan Beus

Westly: A Spider's TaleWestly: A Spider's Tale by Bryan Beus
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I can see where younger readers will enjoy this, but for me there was a world that wasn't really built, leaving me to want to know much more. Perhaps that will be added in publication with images? DNF.

ARC provided by publisher.

28 December 2015

The Kiss of Deception; Mary E. Pearson

The Kiss of Deception (The Remnant Chronicles, #1)The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a book opens with a Gormenghast-esque feel (Tradition? rituals without current meaning? etc) it's great... but then, no follow-up. Once we got past that start, and the lack of a castle like Titus Groan roams, it's a relatively ordinary story about a girl fighting her role in life, then accepting it and "growing into herself". Oh, and a love triangle.

The Unquiet Past; Kelley Armstrong

The Unquiet Past (Secrets)The Unquiet Past by Kelley Armstrong
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The idea was interesting: a young orphan woman goes on a quest of sorts to find out something about her family where she learns that there are deep dark secrets to be uncovered. Sadly, the book doesn't live up to that premise, with things dropped in and then left (like Tess' fashion obsession) or never fully developed (the interior of the house could have been so much creepier had the description been done better). It wasn't clear why the setting was the 1960s except perhaps the treatments needed to be sufficiently outdated? And American audiences may not get the difference between Native and Metis, another thing that could have been easily dealt with.

More Happy Than Not; Adam Silvera

More Happy Than NotMore Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked this, but, well, it felt like a number of other books I've read and ultimately won't be memorable.

The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley; Shaun David Hutchinson

The Five Stages of Andrew BrawleyThe Five Stages of Andrew Brawley by Shaun David Hutchinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What were the five stages? While it was clear that they mimicked the Stages of Grief, in this case it wasn't always obvious which Drew was going through until the very end (acceptance). Drew's grief is mixed with guilt, which isn't one of the "official" stages and is an integral part of why Drew is still living in the hospital, doing the things he's doing. It felt as though that got some short shrift, dropping this down. And the Patient F comic? Either more or less would have been better.

Gabe Johnson Takes Over; Geoff Herbach

Gabe Johnson Takes OverGabe Johnson Takes Over by Geoff Herbach
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First of all, points off for changing the title from Fat Boy vs. the Cheerleaders. While one person I asked thinks this is the better title, there was something great about the first one. Gabe (or Chunk, aka the erstwhile titular Fat Boy) has a less-than-optimal family life and has gained weight, lost friends and self-esteem. What this book does well is show how he begins to turn his life around, and even though it's a little too facile and fast, it does show a hopefulness that was refreshing in a book about someone with weight issues.

26 December 2015

Truthwitch; Susan Dennard

Truthwitch (The Witchlands, #1)Truthwitch by Susan Dennard
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A world in which there's magic (different types of magic) and political/religious struggle? This could have been great, but instead of building a world the author throws readers in - all too frequently with no explanation of what/who - and then overwrites things so that there's So. Much. Tension. The moments that could have been down times, for example early on at the ball, were also treated this way, rather than calming and explaining some of what was going on. There is a market for this, but for me this was one and done.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Theory of Everything; J.J. Johnson

The Theory of EverythingThe Theory of Everything by J.J. Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I got it. Sarah's grieving for her lost BFF, convinced it was her fault. Some of her thoughts get expressed via drawings, diagrams, etc.. But there was nothing really special here, nothing that would make me recommend this to a student who might be in a similar situation (the grief, not the guilt, but one never knows, right?). And the Crisco at the end lost me - it was somewhat in character, but less convincing as something that would work.

A Step Toward Falling; Cammie McGovern

A Step Toward FallingA Step Toward Falling by Cammie McGovern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm probably giving this more than it deserves because Belinda's voice is one that I wanted to hear more of: the way in which she describes her world and her feelings was refreshing in the same way that Christopher's was in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Don't feel sorry for her, feel hopeful. As interesting and also contributing to the rating were the people in the Life Center classes. Kudos to the author for making them all different and not making all of them ultimately lovable. But Lucas and Emily? They were predictable.

24 December 2015

Starflight; Melissa Landers

Starflight (Starflight, #1)Starflight by Melissa Landers
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Predictable story about a lowerclass/outcaste girl trying to make a new life for herself but somehow tied to the Golden Boy from school (who, of course, is rich, gorgeous, snobby). Shock/spoiler: they become a team and make things work together. The world created is also predictable but teens won't care.

ARC provided by publisher.

Flawed; Cecelia Ahern

Flawed (Flawed, #1)Flawed by Cecelia Ahern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While the dystopian genre might be played out, I know several teens who are looking for new versions. The world here might appeal in part because it's not a version of America (I'm guessing it's a future Scotland) and in part because it's less about adhering to a group or being physically perfect/forever young and more about following societal rules (a good follow-up would be Jordan's When She Woke).

Since this was an ARC, I'm hoping the cover artwork isn't final. Our heroine, Celestine, is the product of a mixed-race marriage and the artwork here doesn't show that as clearly as it might. Given the whole #weneeddiversebooks movement it seems like an easy choice to make.

ARC provided by publisher.

It's All Your Fault; Paul Rudnick

It's All Your FaultIt's All Your Fault by Paul Rudnick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There's something charming about this utterly predictable story, but possibly it's because of the Singleberry's resemblance to a Partridge Family/Up With People mash-up. Or maybe it's Rudnick's humor? It was a little difficult to take his constant sneering at people who do, truly, believe in a Christian lifestyle but beyond that this is good, teen fun.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Bitter Side of Sweet; Tara Sullivan

The Bitter Side of SweetThe Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What is it with Tara Sullivan's works? The Africa they illuminate is one we suspect exists, but one we hope doesn't (selling albino body parts? isn't that so 19th century? apparently not, per Golden Boy). Here we're drawn into the world of child slavery tied to the cacoa trade - it just might make you rethink your chocolate addiction or go completely fair trade! The lives that the child workers "live" isn't a thing of the past, it's still ongoing. The kidnappings, beatings and rapes might bother teen readers, but they're not gratuitous, they're a necessary part of this story.

ARC provided by publisher.

Under Their Skin; Margaret Peterson Haddix

Under Their Skin (Under Their Skin, #1)Under Their Skin by Margaret Peterson Haddix
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Because this is Haddix, it's understood that there will be a twist of some sort; what pleased me was that I didn't quite expect this twist (my initial thoughts were more along the VC Andrews' lines - is it too much of a spoiler to say I was wrong?). And, of course, this is part of a series so the answers aren't all there... yet. There are parts that were less plausible than others, but teen readers may not notice. Nor, I suspect, will they have read as many other books of this type so that once the surprise twist happens, there is a sort of a letdown because, well, the rest felt predictable.

ARC provided by publisher.

19 December 2015

Even Dogs in the Wild; Ian Rankin

Even Dogs in the Wild (Inspector Rebus, #20)Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I confess I'm not sure where this series is going. Rebus has retired, worked on old cases, unretired, retired again and is now a consultant; Fox was introduced as the main detective in The Complaints but maybe people complained (see what I did there?) and Rebus was brought back. Now they're together less as partners and more as possible mentor/mentee, which works but for how much longer? Rebus' era in policing is over... his contacts are retiring (if not dead already)... and Edinburgh itself has changed. Fox is showing more spine and creativity, which may or may not lead to a better character in later books that are Rebus-less.

As for the plot, it's one of those Old Nasty Events Stirring Up Troubles Today plots. Of course that makes connecting the dots more difficult (and when Big Ger points out the connection, it felt a little too Hand of the Creator for my taste) and it's only by digging deep into the archives that it gets solved. There's also the Changing of the Guard subplot, with Big Ger and Joe Stark on one side, Darryl Christie and Dennis Stark on the other. Much as with the Rebus/Fox partnership, seeing Joe and Darryl join forces feels like a way forward with the series. But wither Big Ger??

Dumplin'; Julie Murphy

Dumplin'Dumplin' by Julie Murphy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars It wasn't another Big Fat Manifesto but Dumplin' (or, to call her by her real name, Willowdean) is less strident about her size and more like an average girl who happens to be fat. Problems with friends, boyfriends, mom, jobs and all those typical things are more the issue than mere size - a good thing, IMVHO, because that should be the focus, not just weight. For that reason, four stars. Willowdean makes a good role model for those teens; but beyond that, the plot is unremarkable.

06 December 2015

The Underground Abductor; Nathan Hale

Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: The Underground Abductor (An Abolitionist Tale about Harriet Tubman)Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: The Underground Abductor by Nathan Hale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I loved this retelling of Harriet Tubman's life, there were (for me) some problems. First, the panels are too crowded and the greytone some times got a little blurred. Second, there's the hangman, who pops up to ask questions and made comments, which I suppose are meant to be funny but in reality take away from the serious nature of the topic and get distracting.

Secret Coders; Gene Luen Yang

Secret Coders (Secret Coders, #1)Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yang's graphic novels are always fun to read (even for people like me, who don't do well with this genre). Here he seems to be going for a younger audience than in Boxers/Saints or American Born Chinese. The introduction to binary as a code is really well done but the abrupt ending was a little problematic. Until the second book in the series is out this may not catch on as a result.

The Walls Around Us; Nova Ren Suma

The Walls Around UsThe Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's an odd book when the sympathetic character is the one in prison and the one you really don't like is the one on the outside, isn't it? On the one hand, we have Amber, in a maximum security version of juvenile detention, a book lover and loner who just wants to get through the day, week, year and has what appears to be a nice streak. And on the other, Violet who has ego to spare, a ballet dancer convinced she's the next prima assoluta at NYCB. They never meet, because in Violet's timeline, Amber has been dead three years. The tie is Orianna, Amber's friend, who three years earlier is sentenced to the prison that houses Amber. Ori's voice is the one thing that is seriously missing here and as much as I hate the newfound love of multiple narrators, in this case it would have led to an even stronger book (particularly at the end).

We Are the Ants; Shaun David Hutchinson

We Are The AntsWe Are The Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Henry's life is complicated, to be sure: his boyfriend's suicide, his father's disappearance, grandmother's Alzheimers are all weighing on him. And then there are the abductions by the "sluggers" who, after years of experimenting give him a button and charge him with figuring out if the world should, or should not, be saved from destruction in January 2016. So the last thing he needs is the complication of relationships with Marcus and Diego, right? But that's what he (and we) get, a teen whose life is overflowing with "stuff". For me, the big unknown was the sluggers. Are they real? Are the abductions and the Red Button To Avoid Doom real? Or is this a way for Henry to cope with what otherwise overwhelms him? Being Space Boy isn't easy - far from it - but a part of me wondered if the reason he's known as Space Boy is all in his head. Readers will have fun deciding that for themselves.

ARC provided by publisher.

04 December 2015

The Only Thing Worse Than Witches; Lauren Magaziner

The Only Thing Worse Than WitchesThe Only Thing Worse Than Witches by Lauren Magaziner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maybe it was me, but reading this I kept thinking about Buffy's friend(?) Anya - the bunnies! the bunnies! As for plot, it's pretty cute and light with enough humor and drama to keep middle grade readers wanting a sequel. And those ice cream flavors were just genius.

Bone Gap; Laura Ruby

Bone GapBone Gap by Laura Ruby
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Throughout this book I went from loving to being confused to not caring and back again. Perhaps the magical realism needed a bit more magic, or the realistic parts needed to be more clearly separated? For example, the whole castle sequence was interesting, but it wasn't clear if that was a hallucination or reality or magical realism or a combination. Readers may have to go back a few times to figure out which portions are which. On the other hand, I did love the bees!

A School for Unusual Girls; Kathleen Baldwin

A School for Unusual Girls (Stranje House, #1)A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Regency romance meets spy school. Ok, but the Garriger "Finishing School", LaFevers "His Fair Assassin" and Carter "Gallagher Girls" series do virtually the same thing, so what makes this special? Answer, not much. Even the heroine seems muted, not putting two and two together about the Stranje School or her classmates yet supposedly incredibly intelligent. Some of the references to the era feel forced ("night rail" for example, which becomes "night gown" later, or the ton mention) as if something was needed to create a more of a sense of setting, so why not this phrase or that artifact?

From Where I Watch You; Shannon Grogan

From Where I Watch YouFrom Where I Watch You by Shannon Grogan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Why is it authors assume that if a student's life is falling apart, with dysfunctional parents, no one in a school will notice? Particularly if the student has a supportive, caring faculty member to recommend they enter a contest and gives them time to do their own work? I just don't get it. And then the stalking and the low self-esteem that leads Kara to accept an awful friend... sigh. Finally, the flashbacks to years prior to The Summer of No Fun seemed there just to pad the book. Kellen hated Kara (although there are flashes of a nicer sister). She let Kara down. We got that. All that was needed was That Summer, and life after Kellen's death. Oh, and more cooking. It seemed thrown in more to make Kara interesting and give her some escape than an integral part of the story.

Everything, Everything; Nicola Yoon

Everything, EverythingEverything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The good was the voice of Madeline and her spoiler book reviews, but the plot was too Bubble Boy/Fault in Our Stars/House episode for me to love it. That the nurse, Carla, didn't once question the care really bothered me (wouldn't a home care professional want to see a doctor's notes, not just the patient's mother's notes, even if the mother was a doctor?!), but of course for her to do that would pretty much kill the plot. So if you don't let reality intrude, it's probably a better read.