28 March 2015

The Thirteen Chairs; Dave Shelton

Thirteen ChairsThirteen Chairs by Dave Shelton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The perfect read for those who loved the Short and Shivery series, who are ready for a slightly bigger scare but not ready for full-on horror. Would you dare go into the house?

ARC provided by publisher.

The Ghost Network; Catie Disabato

The Ghost Network: A NovelThe Ghost Network by Catie Disabato
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The author here appears in the book as a sort of Greek chorus: the conceit is that this is her editorial notes and addition to a text written by someone else (Disabato's mentor, Cyrus) investigating two disappearances (that of Molly Metro and Caitlyn Taer). The historical information about the Situationists, the New Situationists and how the Chicago L evolved sometimes overwhelms that investigation; more about Molly and her performances, life and evolution would have been interesting. Readers may spend time doing their own searching for information about the Situationists (I did) or wondering why maps were not included (maybe they will be, or maybe they'll be on a website?). The bigger problem is the pacing, which drags when the philosophy and history is introduced and then rushes on when the investigation gets going again. More of the Disabato footnotes and commentary would have helped.

Overall, though, this works if you stick with it. There was one moment when I read and reread, thinking that perhaps we now had a even more unreliable narrator than expected; the other possibility is that it was a continuity error that will be caught in final editing.

ARC provided by publisher.

Serafina and the Black Cloak; Robert Beatty

Serafina and the Black CloakSerafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Serafina lives in the basement of the Biltmore Estate, hidden from the rest of the inhabitants by her father; one day she ventures upstairs and into the life of Braeden Vanderbilt, "son" of the house (nephew of the owners, who act as his guardians) and seemingly unflappable in the face of disappearances and mysteries. The two strike up a friendship and that partnership leads to Serafina's eventually finding who has been causing the disappearances of several of the Biltmore's visitors, in addition to learning more about her mother.

The folklore part elevates this a little beyond the normal "servant girl/rich boy" relationship without overwhelming the entire story.

ARC provided by publisher.

Ana of California; Andi Teran

Ana of CaliforniaAna of California by Andi Teran
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Maybe my love for Anne of Green Gables made for more of a "show me" read than it should have; at least I didn't expect (or get) a 1:1 plot/character equivalency. Ana/Anne was as lively as she should have been, but rest had something a little missing, like Abbie/Marilla. And why was it necessary to keep dropping heavy-handed hints into Ana's past? That part got dragged out to an unnecessary degree.

ARC provided by publisher.

Boo; Neil Smith

BooBoo by Neil Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A rare example of the blurb matching the book: the comparison to The Lovely Bones is apt (toss in some of Zevin's Elsewhere, too). "Heaven" is segmented into age and location-based groups, and Boo finds himself in with the thirteen-year-old Americans; they get to stay for fifty years after their death and then, well, no one knows what happens. Soon after his arrival, a friend from school arrives and Boo and Johnny embark on a rediscovery of their friendship and figuring out what happened to them back home. Boo is clearly on the ASD spectrum, while Johnny was a depressive who'd been sent to a recovery facility the summer before their deaths - does this have anything to do with it? Will they learn who shot them and why? And if they do, will this knowledge change anything?

There were some twists here the really surprised me, inserted into the plot in such a natural way that it didn't feel as though there was a deliberate lead up to the revelation. This might not be the right read for people who have problems with children dying, even if the book is more about growth than death. I did vacillate between a 4 and a 5 because there's a major twist that, while it really works, seemed slightly off (when I read it, that is; upon reflection it worked better).

ARC provided by publisher.

Crown of Three; J.D. Rinehart

Crown of ThreeCrown of Three by J.D. Rinehart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There isn't anything really outstanding here, but equally there's nothing really bad. Triplets, hidden from the world so that they can grow and fulfill a prophecy, magic, evil queens, battles and fantastical creatures will all appeal to the middle grade reader. My biggest complaint is that the female triplet (Elodie) is pretty much a brat and needs to grow more than her two brothers. Why that was needed is beyond me - making her a more likeable character wouldn't have been difficult.

ARC provided by publisher.

Lost in the Sun; Lisa Graff

Lost in the SunLost in the Sun by Lisa Graff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This rating is more a 3.5 for me, because I'm torn between reading as an adult and as a younger person. Here's why: we have a clearly troubled child, and the adults don't seem to be paying as much attention as they should be (wouldn't there be parent conferences? calls home? something??). Dad's behavior is inexcusable at times and someone should have called him on it. Having said that, Trent doesn't make it easy on anyone.

It's unlikely that the target reader will have had Trent's experience, but I can see them relating to his feelings of alienation and lack of belonging to the family or anything. That alone lifted it from the 3.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Knockoff; Lucy Sykes

The Knockoff: A NovelThe Knockoff Lucy Sykes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Was this really a 4-star? Well, yes and no. No in terms of "deep, thought-provoking read that illuminates the human condition" but yes in terms of "perfect rainy day or beach read". And who doesn't need one of those every now and then?

The authors definitely know the fashion and magazine worlds, which keeps the froth quotient pretty high. That this is a real hommage to "All About Eve" means that the world can take a more important role since we all know what's going to happen next. My biggest quibble is that Imogen is in her 40s, yet at times acts as though she's in her 50s or later: yes, fashion and technology move very quickly, but her attitude and m.o. seem to be from the 80s not 90s. An even bigger quibble is why she never goes to HR about Eve's antics - surely that would have happened, or they would have reached out to her?

ARC provided by publisher.

Cuckoo Song; Frances Hardinge

Cuckoo SongCuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The genre here is historical fantasy, or something like that. Triss, her sister and parents live shortly post-WWI, a time when there's still disruption from the veterans returning and industrialization is changing how people live. Dad is an engineer, Mom has "episodes" that require a wine tonic, and sister Pen seems to hate (really, really hate) Triss, who is one of those perpetually sick and fragile children... or is she? And is this really Triss? Pen doesn't think so.

Intermixed with the story, and the addition of the Besiders, is a semi-cautionary tale about how change isn't a positive thing for everyone. Plus, sometimes you have to let your children go and grow on their own.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Chessmen; Peter May

The Chessmen (Lewis Trilogy, #3)The Chessmen by Peter May
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The final entry in the Lewis trilogy is less about the mystery and more about the history of Fin, Whistler and the band Amran (formerly Solas). This is May's MO for his books: wrap the present with a ton of backstory, which allows the reader to understand the present and lessens his need to really do a mystery story per se. That's not to say that learning about Fin isn't interesting, it's just that these are less mysteries than they are character studies.

And once again, the setting is critical. Lewis is almost as much of a character here as anyone, and at times I wonder if that's more May's interest than the people he's writing about.

21 March 2015

Palace of Lies; Margaret Peterson Haddix

Palace of Lies (The Palace Chronicles, #3)Palace of Lies by Margaret Peterson Haddix
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A number of years ago I did a year of Cinderella stories with my 4/5 grade class; one of the books we read was Just Ella and the class was divided about it (they liked Ella's resourcefulness, but the method of escaping the palace grossed them out). Where was I when the sequel came out? Who knows. Now I have to track that down. This book, the third in the series, is good both as a stand-alone and as a continuation. We're in a different kingdom, with different problems and different characters, but Ella and Jed make an appearance.

As far as the plot goes, it hits all the right notes: daring escapes, wicked plotters, possibly mistaken identity. There were a few moments when I hoped for something different, but that's because I've been reading these types of books for so long. The target reading group? They'll love this.

ARC provided by publisher.

Uprooted; Naomi Novik

UprootedUprooted by Naomi Novik
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So conflicted about this book. On the one hand, the heroine is resourceful, strong, etc.. On the other... This really reminded me of one of the old Harlequin romances I read when I was in high school (I think they've changed the formula since then), with the plucky female being put under the care/supervision of the remote, disdainful plantation owner/banker/guardian, trying to prove she's not a ditz/worthy of his notice and then, after some incident that proves it, sexytimes. Except he can't admit it, or she's too young for him, so the frustration continues until the end when he realizes he needs her. I'm not saying that's a plotline-by-plotline spoiler, but there are serious similarities between those books and this. Differences? The man is never a wizard. The girl isn't a wizard, either. Magic isn't an issue. Nor is the fate of kingdoms.

Maybe I'm going to be the only reader who was disturbed by the relationship between Agnieszka and Dragon. The thing is, with a better relationship, for me this would have been a much stronger book and one I could recommend with ease.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Alphabet House; Jussi Adler-Olsen

The Alphabet HouseThe Alphabet House by Jussi Adler-Olsen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So very different than the Department Q series - historical fiction for most of the book, then suspense/thriller towards the end. There were times I thought of DNF'ing it, but there was just enough going on (in the beginning) to keep me going. Less about the train and perhaps tighter plotting in the Alphabet House itself would have made this a little better overall, since there is a definite shift in pacing when we get to the modern day. On the other hand, that might have been a translation choice?

ARC provided by publisher.

Spinster; Kate Bolick

Spinster: Making a Life of One's OwnSpinster: Making a Life of One's Own by Kate Bolick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another memoir where the non-memoir part was much more interesting than the life under discussion. The author's descriptions of her life as a spinster were somewhat lacking, in that perhaps "spinster" is the wrong term - yes, it means "unmarried woman" but I didn't get the sense that she was truly comfortable being alone (perhaps it's all the men in her life?). I admit that it was a bit surprising that the author, younger than me, got a very different message about what was expected (marriage, being settled) for women than I did growing up. Beyond that, though, her exploration of the lives of several women who had really interesting careers and were truly original is worth it. It may even lead to a more general rediscovery of these women! The book also serves as a reminder that there is no one way to have a relationship (or not have a relationship, if that makes sense).

ARC provided by publisher.

Word Nerd; John D. Williams Jr.

Word Nerd: Dispatches from the Games, Grammar, and Geek UndergroundWord Nerd: Dispatches from the Games, Grammar, and Geek Underground by John D. Williams Jr.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a committed word nerd, but not a Scrabble player (seriously? I'm not a good speller, which is kind of a prerequisite for playing), this was a pretty interesting read. The tricks, tips and word lists made me wish I did play, but there's no way I could compete. The disappointing part was that I wanted more about the players, the Scrabble culture, etc. and less of the memoir. Yes, I know that this is a memoir, so I should have known better. Still...

ARC provided by publisher.

The Truth About Us; Janet Gurtler

The Truth About UsThe Truth About Us by Janet Gurtler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not much to say here, except this is a good read for teens looking for romance - there's nothing really unique to make this stand out, but nothing to complain about either. It hits all the usual notes, which will keep fans of the genre happy.

ARC provided by publisher.

A Reunion of Ghosts; Judith Claire Mitchell

A Reunion Of GhostsA Reunion Of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

How often do you read a book written in the first person plural? The conceit here is that this is the suicide note of the three Alter sisters, so their individual voices are muted into one general "we" tone. Does it work? Perhaps 80% of the time, which isn't bad when you think about it. There were times that it felt as though it would have been ok to hear from a sister on her own, particularly when discussing their personal lives.

Because the sisters want us to truly understand everything about their lives and their history, the plot(?) drags a bit in places. There's also a lot about how important the curse is in their lives ("the sins of the father...") and yet we spend more time on their daily lives than on that part. More about how it affected the previous generations, less about the chemistry and current day, and this would have been tighter.

Also, the ending didn't quite work. There should have been a different sounding voice then (no spoilers as to why) and it just sounded the same as before.

ARC provided by publisher.

08 March 2015

The Unraveling of Mercy Louis; Keija Parssinen

The Unraveling of Mercy LouisThe Unraveling of Mercy Louis by Keija Parssinen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sigh. Not only do we have two POVs, we have two different types: one first person, one third. It's not just adjusting to the new person, it's adjusting to a different writing. Sigh. And, of course, when you're writing in the first person, the first trick should be to make the characters sound different - not the case here. Mercy's voice is too sophisticated, to writerly, much better suited for a third person voice than first. Illa's makes sense the way she's written, but not Mercy.

So, the plot. There are a few competing hooks: the basketball focus, the Bible-belt Purity Ball and church life, the town's decline, the refinery's affect on the environment and, finally, mother-daughter dynamics for both Illa and Mercy. Add in a tinge of Cajun folktales and this is quite the jam-packed book. At times I wished for just a little less range.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Pocket Wife; Susan H. Crawford

The Pocket WifeThe Pocket Wife by Susan H. Crawford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For once the blurbage is right: this is akin to Before I Go to Sleep, but I'd toss in "Gaslight" and leave off The Silent Wife (which I DNF'd).

Dana's has bipolar disorder and is in a manic phase, spinning out of control. One afternoon she gets drunk after hearing bad news from a neighbor/friend and that evening that neighbor/friend is murdered. So: did she, or didn't she? Not even she knows. Of course, given her mental state, she makes some bad decisions, not helping her cause.

The missing star is due to the switching of POVs between Dana and Jack Moss, the detective assigned to the case. Obviously it's necessary to do that to give a fuller picture of the investigation and how it progresses, as well as to steep us in Dana's world and mental state. Still, it's something I'm reading far too often, as though there's some memo or mandate. I also had the thought that this was both a great one-off and the start to an interesting psychological mystery series a la Barbara Vine.

ARC provided by publisher.

07 March 2015

Mosquitoland; David Arnold

MosquitolandMosquitoland by David Arnold
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I so wanted to love this book - the disparate elements work, but for some reason as a whole I just didn't feel it. Mim? She is nicely realized, a well-rounded creation. Her trek? Just the right amount of realistic adventure (although I do know that Greyhound has stricter rules about unaccompanied children now then they did when I was Mim's age). More about Walt would have been nice. And it was interesting to see that at the end, Mom wasn't quite what Mim expected/anticipated. But despite all that, I was left with a sense of "meh" when I felt that perhaps there should have been more.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Cemetery Boys; Heather Brewer

The Cemetery BoysThe Cemetery Boys by Heather Brewer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm a sucker for the Harvest Home-type book, so had high hopes for this one. Plus, the author created Vladimir Tod, one of my favorite vampires. Perhaps it's the YA part that made it not work, a desire to lessen the creep? It just felt as though The Winged Ones were slightly unrealized. More about the history of the town, including them, would have been so much better. And grandma needed work - a lot of work. Even a few sentences about why she was so angry (I have suspicions, but they were never completely confirmed which, in this book, wasn't a good thing).

ARC provided by publisher.

Dark Rooms; Lili Anolik

Dark RoomsDark Rooms by Lili Anolik
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I work near Hartford so spent a lot of time trying to figure out which school this was based on (I think I know, but there are some things that just don't fit) - kudos to the author for not being as obvious about which school she's based Chandler on. As for the mystery part, that was a little less well done. For example, Grace's job? In this day and age, it would be the IT department who do the projection set-ups (and at a school like Chandler, each classroom would have a permanent set-up) and the videos stored in the library. So the school's credibility? Hmmm... Clearly this was just a device to get Grace into the school so she could snoop. And that's before we get into the dorms, the faculty relationships and how they handled Nica's death. Also didn't buy her other job, working for the bail bondsman.

As for the mother? Words fail.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Box and the Dragonfly; Ted Sanders

The Box and the Dragonfly (The Keepers, #1)The Box and the Dragonfly by Ted Sanders
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A very long book, and given that I'd have expected a little more explanation about who the Seekers were, what the tanu (and variations) are, etc. - in his attempt to get the action going and up the creepy factor (the thin man?), the world building is slighted a little. Perhaps slightly slower pacing and a little more description would have worked better.

I did appreciate Chloe's skepticism about she will do, as well as her and Horace's unwillingness to disclose everything. Even though Horace seems much more willing (eager!) to join in the adventure, he does seem to occasionally pause to think about it. And the ending, with his mother? It does explain her being such a cool mom, but did the cliffhanger have to be so pointed?

ARC provided by publisher.

Vanishing Girls; Lauren Oliver

Vanishing GirlsVanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn't see the ending coming. Really. In some ways I feel a little manipulated by the author because there should have been a few hints along the way, but mostly I appreciate the surprise.

The mystery of what happened to Madeline seems to have much more importance for Nick than it should have, mostly serving as a way to get to the mystery behind Dara's disappearance and what led up to the car accident. This was the least realized part of the book, which was disappointing. Having said that, the rest of the book and the surrounding story (especially meeting the amusement park workers) redeems things.

ARC provided by publisher.