24 January 2015

I Was Here; Gayle Forman

I Was HereI Was Here by Gayle Forman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So very close to perfect for me! First, the great. Cody's voice, Scottie (all of him, what little we see), and the question of the culpability of All_BS in Meg's death. I've even mentioned that aspect to the ethics teacher at school. The idea that Cody cannot understand, or accept, Meg's suicide is powerful and completely reasonable for someone of her age and experience, as is the guilt she feels about not having been as close with Meg as she used to be when they were in school together. The problem for me was twofold: Cody's seeming passive acceptance of her life was a problem, and the way in which she went about her investigation just felt slightly contrived. Still, I know that this will be a Great Next Read for Forman's many fans.

The Secrets of Midwives; Sally Hepworth

The Secrets of MidwivesThe Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've said it before, and I'll repeat it here: not every novel needs multiple narrators, and here, the intertwining of the three women's stories (Floss, Grace and Neva) doesn't serve the story well.

As for that story, it's predictable. The only real surprise is who the father of Neva's baby is, and had that never been revealed it would have been absolutely fine - that revelation did nothing to advance the plot. Having said that this is predictable doesn't mean that it was bad, by the way, because this does feel like the perfect beach (or tanning booth, given that it's winter) read.

One major quibble: back with Grace was in training, in England, would they really have measured dilation in centimeters? England was still using the Imperial system, not the Metric.

ARC provided by the publisher.

Where They Found Her; Kimberly McCreight

Where They Found HerWhere They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Far too many authors have a "second novel" problem. Not McCreight! This follow-up is as good (in its own way) as Reconstructing Amelia and to my mind counts as a second even though she's written others. The small-town atmosphere works well, even though the town isn't really small, it just feels that way because so many of the characters knew each other "back when". Of course there are hidden secrets, scandals that need to be brought out into the open, and Molly, new to the area and not part of the "back then" crowd, is just the person to do it.

Her flashbacks to therapy were the one thing that really didn't work for me - they felt like a distraction. What did work was Molly's determination to prove she could be a real reporter, that she was better and making an attempt at restarting her life and career. And while I've been very cranky about the spate of multiple narrator novels recently (what is it with that device? was there a memo readers don't know about?) here it works... mostly. More than it doesn't, any way, probably because it's not a revolving door of narrators, with each getting equal time - here, each says what they need to say, when they need to say it. Which really does work!

ARC provided by publisher.

Audacity; Melanie Crowder

AudacityAudacity by Melanie Crowder
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I don't know why the author chose to do this as a novel in verse - it distracted me from the plot (which focuses on an important part of history that girls should know about) and caused a DNF. I ran this ARC past a few students and they were, like me, interested in the topic but the verse? It felt like a gimmick not a necessary device.

ARC provided by publisher.

17 January 2015

Our Endless Numbered Days; Claire Fuller

Our Endless Numbered DaysOur Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one bizarre book, one that will appeal to anyone who read and loved Room or the upcoming Descent. Instead of a stranger kidnapping a child, it's a father - clearly mentally ill - taking his daughter away to a remote cabin for a "vacation" in Germany that turns into a several years long stint as the only two survivors of a global disaster. The problem is, there was no disaster.

We know this because part of the book is told in flashback, as Peggy thinks back to her time in die Hütte after returning to her mother and England. How Peggy eventually escapes may surprise readers more than why.

There's a lot here that is left out, and those omissions actually work in the book's favor. This is Peggy's story and reads that way.

ARC provided by publisher.

Second Life; S.J. Watson

Second LifeSecond Life by S.J. Watson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When an author has a great debut, it's disappointing when the second falls so short of the mark. This was one such instance. The entire premise is that Julia is so distraught after her sister's murder that she will make bad choices. Not just bad, they're horrible choices. I'm not sure even PTSD could explain how bad they are. Then there's the twist at the end. Even less believable. Still, there's something going on here that kept me reading, so it wasn't all bad.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Country of Ice Cream Star; Sandra Newman

The Country of Ice Cream StarThe Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The good thing about the book is the author's creation of a Pigeon English to illustrate Ice Cream's world. The bad, DNF part? Her world is predictable, as is her story. Others might not have read as many of these dystopian novels with some Big Search to fix what's wrong with the world/population as I have, but there just wasn't enough here for me to continue.

ARC provided by publisher.

11 January 2015

Tiny Pretty Things; Sona Charaipotra

Tiny Pretty ThingsTiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One really wonders what research the authors did to get so much of the world of SAB (fictionalized here, of course, because the real SAB doesn't have academic classes) right. Things like the anxiety over roles, weight and getting the approval of the teachers/choreographers. Things like the dedication and commitment to dance above all. The missing was not enough of the actual ballet: stretching and a few pirouettes, plus mentioning fifth and first position doesn't really do it justice. Yes, more would have taken away from the Mean Girls bullying and the romance parts, but it felt as though that was just tossed in at times to set the place.

The ending apparently has been left loose and open because there's a sequel in the works. I actually hope that's the case, because otherwise the ending is just sloppy.

ARC provided by publisher.

Watch Me Go; Mark Wisniewski

Watch Me GoWatch Me Go by >Mark Wisniewski
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Again with the alternating narrators! And in this case, there seemed to be nothing - and I mean nothing - past the prologue to connect them. At 25% I couldn't connect with either, nor with their stories. DNF.

ARC provided by publisher.

Faithful Place; Tana French

Faithful Place (Dublin Murder Squad, #3)Faithful Place by Tana French
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sigh. I really should have paced myself while reading these. Now I have to wait at least a year before there's a new Dublin Murder Squad book. Rats.

The first person narrative, each time from another detective's point-of-view, makes these feel very personal. And then there's the sense of place (no pun intended, given the title!). As for this particular installment, we're actually not part of the Murder Squad but peeking in another detective's life, a detective who should know better about getting involved because it's his family and his first love. That was the one thing that didn't ring quite true: wouldn't he have been firmly warned off?

The Bookseller; Cynthia Swanson

The BooksellerThe Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

What the author is doing here is pretty obvious and even at 25% read I got where it was going, what the twist was going to be. Hence the DNF. My guess is that others will enjoy this far more, particularly those who love the "what if..." genre.

ARC provided by publisher.

10 January 2015

In the Woods; Tana French

In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad, #1)In the Woods by Tana French
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At times while reading this I wondered whether the author had read (or seen) Picnic at Hanging Rock because there are moments that clearly harken back to that work: children missing and one who is found, bloody, as well as the atmosphere in the woods themselves that seems to be somewhat... off. It's clear, too, that some of Rob's memory of that time and his current experience in the woods are merging and his lack of sleep and proper food all contribute to the surreal atmosphere. It was interesting that we never get any resolution on that mystery, and I applaud Ms. French for not trying to tie the two together.

As for the current mystery, the ending was a little less satisfying. While it was obvious that Rosalind was the mastermind, that no one checked her age (they did get her medical records - surely her date of birth was on them?) seemed to be an easy way to get her confession tossed. And that Jessica's health was never explored in light of all this is another slight let down.

By the end, more than just Rob's life is turned upside down. Few authors "go there" with their detectives, leaving the upheaval and destruction to the lives of the murderers, victims and their families/friends. I liked that choice here.

The Likeness; Tana French

The Likeness (Dublin Murder Squad, #2)The Likeness by Tana French
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For once, the blurbs nearly got it right: there is a strong whiff of The Secret History here. As for the mystery part, it's nicely unresolved at the end and readers are left to wonder whether the confession was real, if Daniel is covering for someone because he could and if Cassie will go back to Murder Squad. Because French is writing these from very different POV's it's easy to read this series out of order (as I'm doing).

Somewhere in the book there's a comment that the situation at Whitehorn House could never have continued for ever. It's true: living with a "no pasts" rule, being a young grad student is very different than being in one's 30s or 40s, etc.. so the idea of the group, while interesting, was always frail. There are other ideas floated that stretch credulity, including the very premise of the book, that someone has created an entire identity based on an Undercover Squad creation and who just happens to look exactly like the Undercover agent... thus enabling said agent to go back undercover, as her creation playing the part of the "real thing." Once you get over those bits, it's an interesting read and the suspense part is well done.

Beyond the leap of faith that the premise works, the ending isn't quite as satisfying as it could have been. French seems to rush through explaining who Lexie was before, tracing her journey rather quickly when it might have been better had we seen peeks throughout the story (as we do with her American persona).

04 January 2015

A Touch of Stardust; Kate Alcott

A Touch of StardustA Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another book where the author has two good ideas and yet mashes them together poorly. The larger book, about the making of "Gone With the Wind" as seen through the eyes of a sweet young thing new to Hollywood, is quite good. The mash-in, about her Jewish boyfriend/lover's awareness and angst about the dawn of Nazi Germany, is not so good and seriously detracts from the former. How Julie gains confidence, develops a career and becomes friends with Carole Lombard (and Clark Gable) is a great story, as is the backstage part of the making of the movie. Her re-write of a movie was a fun section, and more of that would have been even more fun. But Andy's reaction to what was going on in Germany, while real and probably representative of what was going on for people in Hollywood at that time, seriously detracted from Julie's story and somehow lessened it.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Wild Truth; Carine McCandless

The Wild Truth: The Untold Story of Sibling SurvivalThe Wild Truth: The Untold Story of Sibling Survival by Carine McCandless
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I have never read Into the Wild, nor have I seen the movie.

So with that out of the way, let's start with my having no prior opinions about the McCandless story. Why read this? Because I hoped to learn from the family's said what drove Chris McCandless to do what he did, and perhaps get a better sense of why so many schools are requiring the Krakauer book. And this book does provide that insight, but... well... so many problems.

There are weird timeline gaps here, like the time Chris spends at Emory is given short shrift. It's only later in the book that we get anything else (his college summer jobs). If that job was important to understanding Chris, why leave it out of his history and only glancingly mention it? The family history is written in the style of A Child Called It or The Chinese Cinderella, but towards the end there was a "yeah, things sucked but we also had some great times" acknowledgement.

This also is more Carine's story, with Chris dying far too early in the book for this to really do him justice. We didn't need as much about her three marriages, her jobs, etc.. More of Chris' life, more of what his friends thought, less of the more recent family dynamic and this would have been a much stronger book.

Broken Harbor; Tana French

Broken Harbour (Dublin Murder Squad, #4)Broken Harbour by Tana French
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It really does look like reading this series out of order won't be a problem, as neither of the two detectives featured in The Secret Place are in this one.

Instead, we have a veteran who hasn't had great luck recently taking a rookie under his wing as they investigate a multiple homicide (parents and children). Of course there's no sign of break in, although the home appears quite broken: so who, and how? Not to mention, why?? The detection here is pretty good, with none of those annoying leaps to deduction that some authors rely on. The relationship between Kennedy and Curran was interesting, with something of a twist at the end (I would love to hope that they'll come back, but, well... read the book).

As for the Dina subplot, at times it felt like padding, or a means towards getting to the end of the case, but it did highlight areas of Kennedy's life that then explained his detection and interviewing methods.

02 January 2015

House of Echoes; Brendan Duffy

House of EchoesHouse of Echoes by Brendan Duffy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh how I wish the creep factor was higher! This falls a little short of the Harvest Home level, but it felt like the author was trying for that. I'm a huge fan of the modern town/village with age-old secrets genre, and House of Echoes fits right in. The town's history of disaster and recovery, how the Winter Families have taken such an interest in what's going on, and the remoteness of the Drop from the rest of the town really work. Couple that with the sense that something is seriously wrong with both Charlie and Caroline and learn that is really, in some ways, a misdirection and you've got a great "don't read this at night" book.

So, why only four stars? The ending was a little muddied. I'm not saying that it needed to be more specific, but more like... perhaps there was some editing done here that changed the pace and tone of the book? There was a slow, deliberate pacing to the previous chapters and then WHAM! ending.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Secret Place; Tana French

The Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad, #5)The Secret Place by Tana French
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you to which ever Year End list recommended this book - now I have a new author to read, just as my faves seem to be publishing at an ever slower rate. This isn't the first in the series, but my poking around shows that the previous books don't always follow the same person so it's ok for those who insist on starting series with Book One.

The mystery here is who killed Christopher Harper over a year ago. One detective from the Cold Case Squad gets new information and takes it to the original Murder Squad detective, so this isn't a real partnership or buddy team investigating and the Moran/Conway pairing really worked for me. The flashbacks to the previous year, counting down to the murder, didn't work quite as well but weren't as annoying as other books with flashbacks have been.