20 May 2015

Disclaimer; Renee Knight

DisclaimerDisclaimer by Renee Knight
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While there are some clear comparisons to be made to Gone Girl (two voices, two unlikeable characters) publishers just need to stop making that claim. What happened twenty years ago in Spain, how that affected Catherine and Nancy (and Stephen) and what made Nancy write a book about it, one that is so clearly based on one person's account of what happened then/there are interesting questions. The bigger question is why Catherine never says anything to her husband once the book appears, and why she lets things gets to the point she does. Once again, it's a good concept ruined by the main character making dumb choices, much like The Wrong Man (Kate White) or Second Life (S.J. Watson) earlier this year.

ARC provided by publisher.

Half Wild; Sally Green

Half Wild (The Half Bad Trilogy, #2)Half Wild by Sally Green
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not half as good as Half Bad (the author's note at the end about plotting better? uh, yes, please). The phrasing in parts is awkward, while the plot seems a little thrown together. We get lots of description, for example, of Van and Nesbitt, but it reads as very stereotypical descriptions (not all Australians say "crikey"!) rather than someone who clearly imagined what Nathan would look and act like. The jumps in tense are also a little odd, particularly the very end where it moves to the second person for some reason.

Copy provided by publisher.

In Todd We Trust; Louise Galveston

In Todd We TrustIn Todd We Trust by Louise Galveston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I hadn't read the previous book, By the Grace of Todd, so it took me a little while to figure out what was going on. My question is whether the target readers will have more difficulty, or less. I did like the idea of tiny people, but then, I really loved Terry Pratchett's Nome series (and if you haven't read them, go now! this book will wait...). Todd is very human, very realistic, however some of his bullies are not quite there. The Toddlian's trek seems inspired by the Borrowers, but Daisy is a unique creation.

The Keeper of Lost Causes; Jussi Adler-Olsen

The Keeper of Lost Causes (Department Q, #1)The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another series I'd read recent volumes of, but not the start. I liked that this starts after the Big Shooting, with Carl already mentally wounded, rather than showing us his "before" life. Unlike other Scandinavian mysteries, these aren't that dark. Now to fill in the gaps between this one and where I started the series...

Baltimore Blues; Laura Lippman

Baltimore Blues (Tess Monaghan #1)Baltimore Blues by Laura Lippman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So now I've read the first and the most recent Tess Monaghan. It was interesting reading how she got to where she is in Hush Hush, seeing the first appearance of Crow and how she got her start. Having said that, it's also very clear this was a first book, with the pacing a little off. Of course, there are things that she may have added here with the intention of being able to refer back to them later (guessing... no idea if that's really the case). Still, if more come my way I'll definitely read them.

Copy provided by publisher.

Oblivion; Sasha Dawn

OblivionOblivion by Sasha Dawn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've never heard of this response to trauma before: graphomania. Is it a real thing? Anyway, it seems as though Callie's response and memories are tied up with this, with the police and her therapists reading what she's produced to help solve the mystery of what happened to her father and another member of her father's church. The Church he runs is apparently fundamentalist, but we don't get a lot about daily life there beyond Callie's mother's time in the confessional and the labyrinth. More would have been better, helping us understand why he had such a hold over her mother. The time jumps were a little distracting (although I got why they were there), while the love triangle was a definite distraction.

A Really Awesome Mess; Trish Cook

A Really Awesome MessA Really Awesome Mess by Trish Cook
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sigh. I'm really trying hard to be sensitive to the fact that there are truly people with problems who need help of the kind that this school might offer. But this school? These treatments? So wrong. I'm rounding up from 1.5 because teens might like this but there were so many problems. So many.

ARC provided by publisher.

False Tongues; Kate Charles

False Tongues (A Callie Anson Mystery, #4)False Tongues by Kate Charles
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kate Charles' earlier series, Book of Psalms, got me hooked on her ecclesiastic mysteries. This series is good, but for some reason doesn't quite rise to the other levels. In this outing, one of the biggest problems is that Callie is part of what feels like the B story (off on a "reunion" of her seminary class) while the real mystery is the A story. That felt like a weird choice, even if the author is trying to give us more about Marco and his world so as to blend the two in later works. I also wanted more of a sense of Cambridge than was provided.

Copy provided by publisher.

Those Girls; Chevy Stevens

Those GirlsThose Girls by Chevy Stevens
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Loss of points because the promised suspense didn't really come through. The three Campbell sisters' lives are difficult, then become horrific, and never quite recover; once again, some of this is due to bad choices and lack of communication. I was right there until the end, when it seems as though there's a trumped-up reason to make the final set piece happen - there was no real reason for it to have happened except to bring us back the farm and the two men who completely destroyed their lives. A more plausible reason or ending would have been better.

ARC provided by publisher.

16 May 2015

Scar Girl; Len Vlahos

Scar GirlScar Girl by Len Vlahos
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you thought the end of The Scar Boys was the end of the band, Scar Boys, well... here's an oral history of the band later, post-success and post-album release. Fans of the first book will enjoy it, but I wouldn't recommend starting here.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Language of Paradise; Barbara Klein Moss

The Language of ParadiseThe Language of Paradise by Barbara Klein Moss
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The writing was far better than the plot, which probably was what kept me reading for as long as I did. And maybe the blurb could have indicated that the apparently pivotal relationships don't even form until over a third of the way into the book (I know this only because I got a third of the way through and realized that what I was reading didn't match anything on the back, which is when I gave up). Even the set up to this was incredibly slow. Yes, it matches literature of that time, but some sensible editing and a little faster pacing would not have gone amiss. DNF.

ARC provided by publisher.

Hausfrau; Jill Alexander Essbaum

HausfrauHausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Having lived in Switzerland and visited a couple of times (ok, I was a kid then, but still...) a book set in Zurich sounded interesting. And parts definitely were: the Migros language school reminded me of the one my mother took French at (we lived in Geneva, hence the French) and the grocery store we shopped at, the discussion of how Schweizerdeutsch differs from German, etc.. But the plot? Not really. Anna's life is clearly filled with depression, but neither she nor her family seem to realize this or care. Casual sex, nearly sleepwalking through her days and showing no interest in virtually anything other than her children? Clearly depressed. And that's not enough to keep me reading. DNF.

ARC provided by publisher.

Friends for Life; Andrew Norriss

Friends for LifeFriends for Life by Andrew Norriss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There was a title change from the original, British publication and this one works so much better. Francis is a slightly odd boy, the type who easily attracts bullies because he's interested in sewing clothes instead of sports. Then one days he finds a friend, Jessica, only, well... he's the only one who actually can see or hear her. Cool, right? And because of Jessica, his able to become friends with Andi and Roland. The four of them form a bond that other misfit children will recognize. There's a twist about the relationships and Jessica, but it isn't the one my mind initially jumped to (not too far off, though). The writing is clear and tight, with humor and a great sense of how children that age talk and feel.

ARC provided by publisher.

12 May 2015

Visiting Hours; Amy E. Butcher

Visiting Hours: A Memoir of Friendship and MurderVisiting Hours: A Memoir of Friendship and Murder by Amy E. Butcher
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There was so much promise here, so much more along the My Friend Dammer continuum than actually appeared. Amy's friend Kevin commits a horrific murder, apparently having suffered a psychotic break. Okay. Amy, being a good friend, doesn't want to lose touch with him, despite being traumatized by this (who wouldn't be, given that the murder came mere hours after Kevin dropped Amy off at her house). Also okay. But instead of exploring some of that more, or talking with others who might have been equally friendly and also affected, at times this meanders into the me-me-me and that's when it lost me. This is less a "memoir of friendship and murder" than someone working out their trauma and issues in a public forum.

ARC provided by publisher.

Woman with a Secret; Sophie Hannah

Woman with a Secret: A NovelWoman with a Secret: A Novel by Sophie Hannah
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm generously rounding up from a 3.5 because... actually, I'm not sure why. There are some truly interesting moments of mystery here, where the Who Killed Damon Blundy plot was really exciting (those columns! that vitriol! who wouldn't have dunnit?) but all too often I just wanted to smack Nicki and say "stop being so stupid, tell people what you know!" And that's what really dropped this down for for me: that she lied, so often, or did the stupid thing, rather than being smart about the police and the investigation. That and the whole weird family dynamic (which seemed even more interesting than the mystery part, but ultimately came to nothing).

ARC provided by publisher.

The Little Paris Bookshop; Nina George

The Little Paris BookshopThe Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The idea that a bookseller would refuse to sell me a book because what I really wanted to read was another book? I'd like to see him/her try. On the other hand, it seems that M. Perdu does it so well that customers don't mind. And can we just talk about that name? Perdu? Could he be anything but lost? Despite all the times I've been to France, I've never drifted down the canals and now, thanks to this book, I really need to. Who wouldn't want to meet the same types of people, or eat these foods, or even explore the floating bookstalls in the towns he (and Max, and Kafka and Lindgren) visits? Extra bonus: the recipes and Emergency Literary Pharmacy. Now I need to find a bohemian de legumes recipe that doesn't have aubergine in it... ARC provided by publisher.

Love May Fail; Matthew Quick

Love May FailLove May Fail by Matthew Quick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One thing I got from this book: hesitate to give a bad review! However... This wasn't a bad book, but I've enjoyed other works by Quick more than this. Possibly it was because I didn't feel that there was anything really unique about the characters, that they were just "types" (Jersey girl, somewhat embittered teacher, porn king turned do-gooder) and thus not people to get excited about. It also seemed rather random at times, as though the author had several good stories in mind, and rather than write a series of short stories he tossed them all into this novel but wasn't quite sure how to link them together in any meaningful way.

ARC provided by publisher.

04 May 2015

Two Across; Jeff Bartsch

Two AcrossTwo Across by Jeff Bartsch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The only thing raising this lovestory from a 2 to a 2.5 (rounded up to 3) was the inclusion of all the crossword clues. Otherwise, Vera and Stanley, their unconventional upbringing and years as "cons" (married and not) would have been skimmable more than not.

ARC provided by publisher.

A Conspiracy of Princes; Justin Somper

A Conspiracy of Princes (Allies & Assassins, #2)A Conspiracy of Princes by Justin Somper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The sequel to Allies and Assassins doesn't fall victim to sophomore slump; the only problem is that on occasion a little more backstory would be nice for those who read the first book a while ago. The mix of strong male and female characters, as well as good and evil characters (and the reminder that not everyone is as they appear on the surface) is done well. Not having read any of the Game of Thrones books, I don't know for sure, but I suspect this would be a good gateway into that series for middle grade readers.

ARC provided by publisher.

A Head Full of Ghosts; Paul Tremblay

A Head Full of GhostsA Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You want unreliable narrators? Here are several of them, all versions of the same person. There's Merry-at-eight (but filtered through her 23-year-old memories), Merry-at-twenty-three, and Merry-as-Karen-the-blogger. And, just to make things a little more interesting, the author is somewhat unreliable, as he name drops so many influences (Room 237 and The Exorcist, to name two) while leaving out the most obvious one (no spoilers here, but if you know horror, you'll figure it out pretty quickly). All those narrators, all unreliable for one reason or another, and by the end it's not quite clear whether we actually know the truth about what happened to Marjorie, John or the Barrett family. For me, a little less pop culture would have worked better, but overall a solid 4.5.

ARC provided by publisher.

Little Pretty Things; Lori Rader-Day

Little Pretty ThingsLittle Pretty Things by Lori Rader-Day
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So the mystery here isn't really Why Did Maddy Hang Herself (or Was Maddy Murdered) but what hold our teen selves have over our lives years later, and how to resolve that - is that a bad thing? Not really. Many of us have seen ourselves as the also ran, the best friend of..., only to be left behind. In this case, Juliet has really become Less Than, cleaning rooms at a run-down local no-name motel, with an interesting sideline in kleptomania. When her BFF, Maddy, shows up looking glamorous and successful, of course there's jealousy; even better, it's the week before their high school reunion, just adding to the angst. Maddy's death brings all of Juliet's anxieties to the fore, as well as bringing people like Courtney (former "blur", current police deputy) back into her life. Solving the why of Maddy's death also solves some of Juliet's current day issues.

Juliet as accidental detective works moderately well, Juliet as "not quite good enough" works better. It's there that readers will find themselves remembering what their high school lives were like and maybe find some understanding of those they went to school with.

ARC provided by publisher.

02 May 2015

Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders; Julianna Baggott

Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders: A NovelHarriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders: A Novel by Julianna Baggott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A famous, reclusive author who has left a body of work that still intrigues readers and a mystery in the form of a resolution to the series she wrote? Ok, tell me more. Turns out, the author (the Harriet Wolf of the title) is dead and the mystery remains. Harriet's daughter Eleanor is an overly protective mother, her granddaughter Tilton is an agoraphobic heavily allergic shut-in, and her granddaughter Ruth is just trying to lead a normal life (albeit one married to a leading Harriet Wolf scholar). Their lives come back together when Eleanor has a heart attack, and Tilton begins to wonder if now is the time to reveal what everyone is looking for: Harriet's final work. Interspersed with all this is that book, biography rather than the fiction expected.

I loved the different characters and their interactions. Was Tilton really as allergy prone as she believes? Why did these women end up the way they did? My only regret was that the original six books are mentioned almost in passing - I wanted more about them. Maybe chunks of them. Why? They sounded so good they deserved more than a few sentences.

ARC provided by publisher.

Bennington Girls Are Easy; Charlotte Silver

Bennington Girls Are Easy: A NovelBennington Girls Are Easy: A Novel by Charlotte Silver
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Maybe I read a different book than the blurbers did, but this was mostly bad with some funny bits. The characters weren't just unlikeable, their situations were. If this book is to be believed, Bennington Girls aren't easy, they're catty, dumb and uneducated.

ARC provided by publisher.

Girl in the Moonlight; Charles Dubow

Girl in the MoonlightGirl in the Moonlight by Charles Dubow
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A relatively good entry in the "outsider boy has crush on unattainable girl" genre. The different here is that the unattainable girl is half-Catalan, so there's a slightly exotic cast to things (calling her parents Mare and Pare, for example). Cesca (nee Francesca) is part of an artistic clan, and her oldest brother, Aurelio ("Lio") becomes one of Wylie's friends and painting mentors as well as providing access to Cesca (or at least news of her). There's a lot of wealth here, a lot of Upper Class New York Connectiveness with a Catalan accent.

The problem is that it's overwritten and completely predictable - there's very little that wasn't telegraphed. It also felt as though the scenes where Wylie is trying to get on with his life without Cesca or interacting with her family were thrown in. Had the author committed to the obsession, or Wylie's struggle with that obsession, it would have been stronger.

ARC provided by publisher.