30 August 2015

The Girl with Ghost Eyes; M.H. Boroson

The Girl with Ghost EyesThe Girl with Ghost Eyes by M.H. Boroson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A strong 3.5 starts for this mix of historical fiction and martial arts, plus a strong female character. I know that the author (or publisher) is going for some sort of "Girl with..." recognition but I did take offense that the "girl" here is in her 20s and a widow, not a teen! The author's notes at the end, explaining the melange of belief and fighting systems that was created here are helpful, particularly for those who might want to learn more and find things aren't quite the way they're described in this book. At the end, readers will wonder if this is part of a series or not (either way works).

ARC provided by publisher.

The Smell of Other People's Houses; Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

The Smell of Other People's HousesThe Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm never sure if this qualifies as historical fiction (it's set in the 1970s) or contemporary (because it's in my lifetime), nor is it clear why that era is the one chosen for the setting. Perhaps it's because today we have cell phones, and the internet, and Alaska doesn't feel quite as foreign as it did then? The revolving narrators, at this point, feel like some sort of editorial mandate: thou shalt write multiple narrators and first-person POVs. So that's the lost star.

Beyond that, however, this is a very powerful book. People forming a mixed community in Fairbanks, one where the children go to school and play together without really thinking much about their differences in terms of race but do in terms of what the family is like and what the financial situation is. That felt very real. The intersections of their lives, particularly at the end, were sometimes a little forced but that also was somewhat the fault of the narrative device. The comparisons to Sherman Alexie and Louise Erdrich are spot on.

ARC provided by publisher.

Pieces of Why; K.L. Going

Pieces of WhyPieces of Why by K. L. Going
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The cover doesn't match the book: the model looks older than I felt Tia is (she's 12, but I get the sense she's younger than her years). As for the rest, it was surprising that Tia had never Googled or looked up her father and what he did, because if you're curious in this day and age, isn't that what you do? The resolution with her mother felt a little fast - people don't change that quickly, even if they mean to! Tia's life as a poor white living in what appears to be a mostly black community in NOLA did feel real and highlights a population that many may not remember exists.

ARC provided by publisher.

Life Unaware; Cole Gibsen

Life UnawareLife Unaware by Cole Gibsen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not quite sure about this - the lead is unlikeable, and the way in which she's redeemed seems very contrived. Plus, the Big Problem (all her really bitchy texts spread around for all to see) has featured in several middle grade books, so it's not quite new ground. I did wonder about two things: 1. why was Reagan less curious about who had done this (surely, a small group)? and 2. how did it spread so quickly, because all we're told is they're printed out and posted on her locker? Surely someone could pull it down? Still, if there are teens out there who haven't gotten the message about how texts, etc. can be made public, this might be a good read.

Copy provided by publisher.

The Santa Klaus Murder; Mavis Doriel Hay

The Santa Klaus MurderThe Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel Hay
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another of the Golden Age yet forgotten mysteries being returned to the public by Poisoned Press. The writing is very much of its time, and the locked-room device works well here. Having multiple narrators was, at first, a bit annoying but then made sense; as far as the whodunnit part goes, it's clear from the start that the lost Santa Klaus suit will come into play, but it isn't absolutely clear until the end who or why. Which, for those who know me, is a good thing.

ARC provided by publisher.

24 August 2015

One of Us; Jeannie Waudby

One of UsOne of Us by Jeannie Waudby
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hoodies vs. Citizens - in many ways, much like Muslims vs. Christians, or Sharks vs. Jets, or North vs. South. K's life as a citizen, then as a member of the Brotherhood could have (should have?) been better delineated: beyond clothing and fanaticism, what are the differences? what was the history of the split? Had that been added, this would have gotten a higher rating.

ARC provided by publisher.

Drowning is Inevitable; Shalanda Stanley

Drowning Is InevitableDrowning Is Inevitable by Shalanda Stanley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What this book says about destiny and friendship is pretty powerful, but the overwrought writing at times lessened the impact. That Olivia has no one in her life who realizes that there is something seriously wrong going on (wearing her mother's clothes? her only goal to outlive her mother?) was also problematic for me - even the explanation that this was a small town didn't quite work for me.

ARC provided by publisher.

Trouble on the Thames; Victor Bridges

Trouble on the ThamesTrouble on the Thames by Victor Bridges
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is part of a series of reprinted/republished older mysteries or spy stories, hoping to bring them to a new, modern audience. I don't know if any editing was done, but because the last time I read an Ellery Queen mystery I found that the phrasing was... quaint and very outdated (in other words, things we no longer say but were commonly said back then), so I wondered. There wasn't anything here that surprised me in terms of language, and in terms of the plot, again, no surprises. We're in the run-up to World War II, the Nazis are trying to infiltrate England and steal military secrets and there's romance in the air. All good, if a tad quaint by John le Carre standards.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Murder Road; Stephen Booth

The Murder Road: A Cooper & Fry MysteryThe Murder Road: A Cooper & Fry Mystery by Stephen Booth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ok, I'm a little confused: are we heading for some sort of love triangle with Cooper torn between Fry and Villers? If so, what's going on with Diane? She made the briefest of appearances in this book - and possibly won't even appear in the next one. And this after I thought Booth was finally figuring out what to do with the couple.

Mystery-wise, the opening really reminded me of another book (turns out it was In the Dark Places by Peter Robinson) but quickly turned into something else. The "why" was satisfying, but the "how" didn't quite work for me. And the "why" isn't as telegraphed as it might have been, but it is there for those closely following. What didn't work for me was the inclusion of far more Peak District information than usual, at times just sounding like a history brochure rather that organically arising from the plot.

ARC provided by publisher.

Reawakened; Colleen Houck

Reawakened (Reawakened, #1)Reawakened by Colleen Houck
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

My faint hopes that the author had grown in style and ability since her Tiger Saga were, well... This was as confused in terms of plot, with far to many adjectives. DNF.

How to Break A Heart; Kiera Stewart

How to Break a HeartHow to Break a Heart by Kiera Stewart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rounding up from 2.5, mostly because it was definitely part of the teen romance genre. Having said that, I had a difficult time remembering that Mabry was only 13! Many times it read like she was older, perhaps in 9th or 10th grade (not 8th) and I wonder if the author was hoping to reach a younger audience by making her 13? And Thad? Even knowing his backstory didn't make him likable. The telenovela parts were funny and it would have been great if they'd been a larger part.

ARC provided by publisher.

Inherit the Stars; Tessa Elwood

Inherit the StarsInherit the Stars by Tessa Elwood
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The writing had too many adjectives, and the world building was weak. DNF.

06 August 2015

The Boy Who Knew Everything; Victoria Forester

The Boy Who Knew EverythingThe Boy Who Knew Everything by Victoria Forester
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This had some odd pacing issues: slow at times (like when the group is at the farm, training) and then very fast (like the "miracles"). Maybe some editing would have worked, giving us a tighter book? The boy in question, Conrad, is part of a prophecy that is mentioned but not stressed and that also felt like something wasn't quite right. However, the target audience probably won't even notice. Instead, they'll enjoy the two worlds that are presented and wonder if they, too, could be as exceptional.

ARC provided by publisher.

It's a Wonderful Death; Sarah J. Schmitt

It's a Wonderful DeathIt's a Wonderful Death by Sarah J. Schmitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh, Terry Pratchett, you have spoiled me. Any DEATH character who DOESN'T SPEAK IN ALL CAPS just somehow pales in comparison. That aside, this version of Death Himself isn't all bad (the Grim Reapers get better lines, though). RJ's fight to correct her untimely death presents her in an unpleasant light and readers may actually root for her to lose her appeal. No spoilers, but if (like me) you like one of the death-based books (Denton Little's Deathdate or the Dead Is... series) this is one of the best in the genre.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Second Life of Nick Mason; Steve Hamilton

The Second Life of Nick Mason: A NovelThe Second Life of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nick's the kind of guy you want as a friend: loyal. So loyal he won't give anything to the police because it might implicate one of his oldest friends, a decision that leads to five years in prison (it's supposed to be 25 years). And it's that loyalty that brings him to the attention of Darius Cole, who still runs Chicago even though he, too, is in prison. Somehow, Cole pulls enough strings to get Nick released... I don't think I need to go any further because this hews relatively closely to the genre formula. As always, genre forumlae are not necessarily a bad thing and this one is written well-enough for those who like hard-boiled suspense to enjoy.

ARC provided by publisher.

A Thousand Nights; E.K. Johnston

A Thousand NightsA Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An interesting version of the One Thousand and One Nights, minus the 1,001 stories. Even more interesting is that the narrator is, like Jane Eyre, never described except in relationship to others (nor is she ever named). Instead of Scheherazade telling tales like Aladdin we hear about the life the narrator left, the smallgods her family worshipped and the family history. At times I wished for more obvious parallels to the original, if only to introduce younger readers to it. Still, highly recommended.

ARC provided by publisher.

Believarexic; J.J. Johnson

BelievarexicBelievarexic by J.J. Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm torn about this book and the story of a girl with an eating disorder. One one hand, because the author based the book on her life, it felt very realistic. Yet on the other, it sometimes felt like there was a slight goosing up of the emotional quotient when that didn't need to be there.

ARC provided by publisher.

Police; Jo Nesbo

Police (Harry Hole, #10)Police by Jo Nesbø
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometimes you just have to go for a comfort read and while it may be odd to think of a Harry Hole mystery as a comfort read but in a way it is (think: you know what you're getting thanks to the Nesbo formula). For much of the book Hole is actually off screen and given the events of the previous book it's unclear why. When he does appear the death count doesn't acutally go up but that's more because of what's going on: someone is replicating previous cop killings. The ending was a little unsatisfactory in that usually he doesn't leave us with as big a cliffhanger, but since I haven't read that one yet I might just have to get it now!

Darkthaw; Kate A. Boorman

DarkthawDarkthaw by Kate A. Boorman
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I was convinced I'd read this book before, right down to the confusion of French and English speakers in the settlement. After checking, I hadn't read the previous book so I DNF'd because it's clearly a world I've already read about and to be honest, these characters just didn't make me care enough about them or their journey to continue in that world.

ARC provided by publisher.

Illuminae; Amie Kaufman

Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)Illuminae by Amie Kaufman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An illegal mining colony is suddenly attacked by a multi-world corporation (and by "attacked" we mean "by something like the Starship Enterprise"), leading to many, many deaths. Those survivors that there are are on three semi-crippled battle airships and, well, things begin to go from worse to worst. The story is told via documents obtained during interrogations, texts, illegal hacking and more - but for whom is the dossier compiled? and why? Kady and Ezra's life and exploits play a large part in this dossier, leading readers to wonder why them, exactly. No spoilers here, so you'll have to read to find out.

I loved the mix of documents, the way the action moves from interrogation to text screens to descriptions of videos and more. That this is the first in a series bothers me (it'd be a perfect one-off, trust me), as did the fact that this is supposed to take place in the future somewhere in space and yet the technology doesn't seem to have advanced that much.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Rosemary Spell; Virginia Zimmerman

The Rosemary SpellThe Rosemary Spell by Virginia Zimmerman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rosemary is both the name of the lead character and the herb Shakespeare says "is for remembrance" (both are important facts). She lives in a home previously owned by a nationally known poet, currently living in a nursing home and dealing with Alzheimers. The themes of memory and forgetting are pretty strong here, metaphorically, poetically and in reality. The research they do to fix what they've done is fun but beyond that, he promised "dark forces" that Rosemary and Adam face aren't really there, it's more like they tangle with something that seems dark but is definitely off-stage. That's not to say this won't appeal, just that there are other, better versions.

ARC provided by publisher.