28 February 2015

Painless; S.A. Harazin

PainlessPainless by S.A. Harazin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

David's life is a fairly constrained one due to his CIPA (a genetic inability to feel pain). He lives with his grandmother, is watched over by his best friend/caregiver Spencer and Joe, the family lawyer. He's been homeschooled, never had a girlfriend and is, like many late-teenage boys, eager to actually have a life; unlike most of his peers, he's socially awkward and immature. Over the course of Painless his life changes immeasurably: Nana dies, Spencer quits to go to college and have a real life, and David learns to drive and goes away from home for the first time.

All of that makes for an interesting book - I loved that David wasn't some savant or mature beyond his years given his isolation. But the trip he takes? It felt like it was injected just to create some tension, unnecessarily so.

ARC provided by publisher.

Daughter; Jane Shemilt

DaughterDaughter by Jane Shemilt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Imagine you have a normal, loving family, even if your teenage children are a bit sullen and uncommunicative at times. Then your family gets ripped apart by the disappearance of your daughter... and suddenly all the assumptions you have about your family, your friends and your life are upended. That's what happens here, as Jenny pieces together what her family members are really like and who may have taken Naomi.

The constant back-and-forth in the timeline, jumping from slightly before Naomi disappears to about two years later, gets a bit tiresome, hence the loss of a star. On the definite plus side, there's a single narrator and a good twist at the end.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Penderwicks in Spring; Jeanne Birdsall

The Penderwicks in SpringThe Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The popularity of this series gives me hope that maybe readers will read (and enjoy) some of the books I enjoyed as a child, books like Enright's Saturday's series, because the pacing is similar and there's a decided lack of fantasy, wizards or princesses. Having said that, from an adult point of view, there's a slightly moral tone and resolution that bothered me; there's nothing wrong with them, per se, but I did feel as though the plot was a bit too predictable.

ARC provided by publisher.

22 February 2015

Where All Light Tends to Go; David Joy

Where All Light Tends to GoWhere All Light Tends to Go by David Joy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Words fail me about this book - it's very powerful. Jacob's life, how he seems to have some idea that he could be more than what he knows he will be, is truly tragic. Trying to maintain a relationship with his meth-addict mother, trying to be strong enough to let his girlfriend Maggie go and trying to maybe be a bit more than just Charlie's son just seems like such work. The compression of time, only a month of his life, adds to the intensity. A must read for fans of Wiley Cash or Winter's Bone.

ARC provided by publisher.

Unlikely Warrior; Georg Rauch

Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler's ArmyUnlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler's Army by Georg Rauch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

War is truly hell, which got this book three stars. It's a great account of how harrowing it was to be in World War II, at the front. But the subtitle led me to believe there'd be more about that aspect and there really wasn't. Yes, there was discussion about his non-Aryan status, and how that affected him, and worrying about his family's hiding of Jews in their attic, but any real reflection? Not really.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Truth About Twinkie Pie; Kat Yeh

The Truth About Twinkie PieThe Truth About Twinkie Pie by Kat Yeh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The target reader will have far fewer problems with this than I did: the inconsistencies in the story and the Southern stereotype will probably go unnoticed. How GiGi managed to be so clueless about her background (really? never tried to look for that shade of lipstick before? not buying it) and DiDi for so long just irritated me. It also felt like forced tension between Mace and GiGi, rather than a natural relationship. Still, as I said, middle grade readers will not notice that and will be eager to try those recipes!

ARC provided by publisher.

21 February 2015

Shutter; Courtney Alameda

ShutterShutter by Courtney Alameda
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Maybe it's me, but the world building here just seemed like there was something lacking - while the author has created a vocabulary and a setting, the explanations of what each of them were are (to my mind, anyway) just a little vague. That's not to say I want everything spelled out, but understanding what exactly Micheline does, what her mother did, etc. would have helped a lot. And Luca? Was she supposed to be mesmerized and entranced by him? Because I didn't get that.

ARC provided by publisher.

Hush Hush; Laura Lippman

Hush Hush (Tess Monaghan, #12)Hush Hush by >Laura Lippman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've never read any of the Tess Monaghan mysteries, so coming to a series this late is always a little fraught; in this case, there is just enough backstory given so I caught up quickly, but not so much that I felt it detracted from the current mystery or shamed me for not having read the previous ones.

So, what about the mystery itself? There are several potential suspects, all with equally valid motivations and access. Lippman does a good job of misleading the reader so that the ending is - as it should be, IMVHO - a surprise. And even then, do we have it right? Maybe. I think.

And now I'm off to find other Lippmans...

ARC provided by publisher.

Finding Jake; Bryan Reardon

Finding JakeFinding Jake by Bryan Reardon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The big question here is "Did he... or didn't he..." and it isn't until near the end that we find out what Jake's involvement with the school shooting is. Living relatively near Sandy Hook and reading this shortly after the report about how to deal with the memorial and protect children cam out was a little emotional for me. Having said that, this is a very powerful look at how a child, raised by his stay-at-home introverted dad, a little quiet, into war/gun games, not the most popular kid, can have those qualities used against him in the face of a tragedy (I'm not trying to spoil this! honestly!). But when we look at what's traditionally said about the Sandy Hook, or Columbine, or other school shooting perpetrators, it's "introvert", "quiet", "not popular", etc., and that becomes code for "sociopathic killer" - Reardon faces that issue head on.

What didn't work for me was the ending, which felt as though the author was trying to somehow leave us with a happy ending, and the mother, who was really unsympathetic and at times unnecessarily so.

I'd hesitate to recommend this book to people who couldn't read Room, Descent or news stories about child abductions or school shootings without serious depression.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Ghost of Heaven; Marcus Sedgwick

The Ghosts of HeavenThe Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The four stories here seem to be only lightly related, so it's a little difficult to review the entire book. To me, two worked well, one really didn't work, and one was very similar to another YA book. The one that didn't work was the first story, told in verse (which I'm never really a fan of) about the invention of writing; the one that resembled another book was the final story, which had an Across the Universe vibe to it, and perhaps that got in the way of my enjoying the story. The English witch trial and the modern day insane asylum did work for me, even if the former was a familiar theme (yeah, I know, I've just contradicted myself, but I don't mind witch hunts and I didn't enjoy AtU so...).

ARC provided by publisher.

15 February 2015

Seeker; Arwen Elys Dayton

Seeker (Seeker, #1)Seeker by Arwen Elys Dayton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was such an infuriating book: there were wonderful parts, and "hot mess" parts and they were so entangled it was difficult at times to read. The wonderful: the mystery of the Seekers and the Dreads, their past and their mission. The "hot mess": too many POVs (note to authors - first person doesn't work all the time. stop it. now.), a love triangle, and flashbacks. Oh, and weak worldbuilding. This is set in (I think) Modern-Medieval Scotland, Modern Hong Kong and Steampunk London. See what I mean? Quin is a great character and I can see so much change and growth in her. Maud could be a strong character if she's allowed to be, while John and Shinobu don't register as more than token good/bad boys.

ARC provided by publisher.

Dream a Little Dream; Kerstin Gier

Dream a Little Dream (Silver, #1)Dream a Little Dream by Kerstin Gier
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A "new" series by Gier (new to English translation, not really new) that deals with, in some way, the occult. Liv and Mia have lived all over the world, thanks to their mother's academic life (Pretoria, Berkeley, etc.) and have now moved to England where - no surprise to them - their dreams of Oxford and a quaint cottage are replaced by London, an apartment, and a new man for their mother. This new man has two children, one of whom is the amazingly gorgeous Grayson; Grayson is one fourth of a group of amazingly gorgeous and basketbally-talented boys. Liv gets drawn into these boys dream world and what binds the four. Luckily, there's no love triangle! Unfortunately, most of the characters seemd to be stock types, and he cliffhanger at the end wasn't a surprise; despite that, I am looking forward to the next in the series.

ARC provided by publisher.

14 February 2015

The Curse of the House of Foskett; M.R.C. Kasasian

The Curse of the House of Foskett (The Gower Street Detective, #2)The Curse of the House of Foskett by M.R.C. Kasasian
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I've read that this is supposed to be Sherlock Holmes meets Edward Gorey, and perhaps that's the case. But Gorey had a certain sly, weird sense of humor and this book? Not so much. The mystery of who is killing the members of the Last Death Club could have been more interesting had the lead detective, Sidney Grice, been more likeable. Example? At the beginning there are references to blue carbuncles and ginger haired men, which gave me high hopes that we'd get Holmsian references throughout, instead there are Grice's inventions and references to his brilliance but with less humor than one would want. Even the House of Foskett, which made me think "Miss Havisham", doesn't quite live up to its promise.

The Buried Giant; Kazuo Ishiguro

The Buried GiantThe Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm conflicted about this one - it's kind of magical realism in Arthurian-era England, which is different in and of itself. The mist (or dragon's breath, or whatever) that has been causing people to not remember the past, including the recent past, seems to be pointless. But then again, maybe there is a reason it exists and the reason is a good one. Maybe. The flashes of memory that Axl and Beatrice have both in their village and on their journey to find their long-estranged son never quite coalesce into something substantial, nor is it clear that they succeed in their quest. This is the sort of read that requires a re-read to actually be sure you know what it was you read.

ARC provided by publisher.

By Mouse and Frog; Deborah Freedman

By Mouse and FrogBy Mouse and Frog by Deborah Freedman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked the clever takes on the art, but for some reason this didn't ring my cute-bell the way some of the other picture books I've read recently did.

ARC provided by publisher.

Look! Jeff Mack

Look!Look! by Jeff Mack
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So cute. Using only two words? Perfect for little kids (this could be the first book they actually read!). And of course the tv watching boy/playful gorilla combination is priceless.

ARC provided by publisher.

It's Only Stanley; Jon Agee

It's Only StanleyIt's Only Stanley by Jon Agee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cute story about a dog doing things that dogs don't normally do... except his family doesn't notice.

ARC provided by publisher.

06 February 2015

God Help the Child; Toni Morrison

God Help the ChildGod Help the Child by Toni Morrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Such a short novel, but so powerful. The issues of skin color and how even within the black community it matters are front and center in Bride's life, with the opening and closing chapters really punctuating them. How her life starts to unravel when her boyfriend leaves, only saying "You not the woman I want" will resonate with any woman rejected, but how she handles things after and the resolution are at once exasperating (particularly with regards to her job) and poignant. At times I wished there were more to the story, but then maybe I wouldn't have appreciated it so much.

ARC provided by publisher.

Blood Infernal; James Rollins

Blood Infernal: The Order of the Sanguines SeriesBlood Infernal: The Order of the Sanguines Series by James Rollins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

No surprises here, really, in the conclusion to the trilogy. There are more blasphmeres, more strigoi, more Sanguinists and more cameos from Famous Historical People. The main reason to keep reading is less about the Three of Prophecy and more about Elizabeth Bathory, the Blood Countess of infamy and legend. She is - to my mind - the most interesting character here. Oh, and the lion cub. Another reason to continue to read.

ARC provided by publisher.

Moone Boy; Chris O'Dowd

Moone Boy: The Blunder YearsMoone Boy: The Blunder Years by Chris O'Dowd
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I didn't know the source material, so I came to Moone Boy with fresh eyes; of course, now I'm wondering whether I should start binging on it, because Martin Moone is pretty funny. There are some references that might go over the target reader's head, but there are very helpful footnotes to assist! Poor Martin's search for a wingman to help him avoid bullies (including those in his own family, aka his sisters) will resonate with lower middle school readers and have adults wondering if they ever were that clueless.

ARC provided by publisher.

Return to Augie Hobble; Lane Smith

Return to Augie HobbleReturn to Augie Hobble by Lane Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you live in a semi-rural area, you know those formerly wonderful amusement parks (usually themed) that have fallen on hard times as Six Flags and the lure of Disney have grown. Augie's family owns and operates one of those parks, and the depiction of the workers and "amusements" feels quite realistic. Poor Augie, having to work there all summer and forced to create a new art project so he can pass a failed class. He'd rather be hanging with his BFF or flirting (or attempting to flirt) with the new Cinderella. And I'll stop there, to avoid spoilers. Finding out how Augie's summer goes, was fun and funny (at times... read it and you'll see what I mean).

ARC provided by publisher.

Winnie; Sally M. Walker

Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-PoohWinnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed the backstory to how Winnie (named for the city, Winnipeg) came to London and was introduced to Christopher Milne but... that last part was disappoining. There should have been more about how Christopher actually was allowed to play with the bear (just think of the lawsuits today!) and how the "the-Pooh" was appended to his toy. It felt like after all the build-up, that part was given short shrift.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Skunk; Mac Barnett

The SkunkThe Skunk by Mac Barnett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another cute addition to children's picture books - this time, a skunk stalker. Or is he?

ARC provided by publisher.

Murder on the Champ de Mars; Cara Black

Murder on the Champ de MarsMurder on the Champ de Mars by Cara Black
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This entry in the Leduc series is, like the previous ones, a little overwritten (can hearts please stop clenching? please!). Unlike the previous ones, the actual mystery part seems to be rivaled by Aimee's personal life, in this case her fight over custody of her daughter with Melac and his new partner. No matter how much this made her heart clench, and no matter how many times she's told to make this a priority, she seems to really not care. That part was very strange and didn't fit with what we've previously known about her. And really, given the area we're exploring, to never mention some of my favorite stores (a Black specialty in previous books)? Hmmm...

ARC provided by publisher.

Jampires; Sarah McIntyre

JampiresJampires by Sarah McIntyre
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So cute! I can't wait to find some little 'uns to read this to.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Dickens Mirror; Ilsa J. Bick

The Dickens Mirror (Dark Passages, #2)The Dickens Mirror by Ilsa J. Bick
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I tried - I really, really tried. This was so confusing: multiple POVs and multiple eras and multiple Londons led to a confusing plot and a DNF.

ARC provided by publisher.

Best Boy; Eli Gottlieb

Best BoyBest Boy by Eli Gottlieb
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is being touted as a new Curious Incident but it really isn't - this centers on an adult who has been in an assisted living home for over 40 years and his life, not a boy solving a mystery. There's also a lot less of the ticks that we've become accustomed to when talking about those with autism (or Asperger's). Todd does talk about the "volts" in his head, and lives a relatively regulated life, but he's a respected elder in his community. There is one goal: to go home, where he grew up and felt enveloped in his mother's love (dad? that was another question... as is his older brother, who now has oversight over Todd).

This will be a spoiler-free review, so I'll leave it there. Let's just say that Todd is a well-rounded creation and his life is a fuller one that we usually read about when reading about those in these types of books. There are a few moments when I thought this was stereotypical, but overall, a five-star read.

ARC provided by publisher.

Data and Goliath; Bruce Schneier

Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your WorldData and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World by Bruce Schneier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A frighetning read, and deservedly so. Schneier's eye-opening look at exactly how insidious information harvesting is, and how little control we have over what is kept or how it is used, may not completely surprise readers but with luck it will create more of an interest in changing things. Perhaps there is more focus here on the NSA (and other intelligence agency) efforts - many exposed by the Snowdon revelations - because commercial entities (like Google and DoubleClick) are constantly evolving to get around apps like AdBlocker, making it more difficult for us to avoid tracking.

This is no "get offline, it's the only way you can be safe!" polemic, but a warning about the pervasiveness of the tracking of data and metadata and a call to citizen action.

ARC provided by publisher.

Bound; Sally Cabot Gunning

BoundBound by Sally Cabot Gunning
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Good historical fiction brings the era to life, illuminating things that we may not have known before. Bound highlights the life of an indentured servant in pre-Revolutionary Massachusetts, showing how casually children could be forced into that life (in this case, a father selling his daughter so as to pay for passage to the Colonies) and what that life could look like for the child, both good and bad. Where the book fails is the pregnancy plot, and the unnecessary addition of Sam Adams and the start of the revolution. The indenture issues alone would have been enough for this book stand on.

La Seduction; Elaine Sciolino

La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of LifeLa Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life by Elaine Sciolino
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm a little conflicted about this book: overall, I loved the way the author talks about "seduction" not as being all about the sexy times but about enticement (physical, emotional, intellectual) and the myriad ways the French have perfected it. On the other hand, the people she talks to are not average by any stretch of the imagination and one is left wondering if the average Frenchman and Frenchwoman feel the same. It was also amusing to hear that DSK's womanizing is tolerated, knowing that shortly after the book was published his rape case (and now pimping case) started. And let's not talk about the love mess that President Hollande has... Perhaps a new chapter is needed?