31 October 2015

A Banquest of Consequences; Elizabeth George

A Banquet of Consequences (Inspector Lynley, #19)A Banquet of Consequences by Elizabeth George
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Inspector Lynley has seemed a little lost since Helen's death, and the author has been trying different things to move him (and the series) forward. This is the first one where I've thought she might succeed, but she desperately needs an editor to trip at least 100-200 pages. The earlier books were less fraught with emotional and inessential sidestory and much tighter as a result. Also, more Simon and Deborah, please.

As far as the mystery goes, there was a moment about 60% through where I thought I'd solved it but luckily it was the same mistake that Alistair makes. Very satisfying to have such good misdirection! But the ending felt very forced (I'm not sure I believed in India's decision, and if Havers is heading in the direction I think she is... just no. Please not!). At least Isabelle is giving Havers more "rope" so the next book will, I hope, see her and Lynley together again and working as they used to.

ARC provided by publisher.

When Tom Met Alison; Philip Street

When Tom Met AlisonWhen Tom Met Alison by Philip Street
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading the Globe & Mail in the 1990s and 2000s meant getting my daily dose of Fisher, and now I troll the website (sadly, Philip Street ended the series in June). The story of Tom and Alison is only part of the charm of the strip - and luckily here you see some of Tom's work at Waverly & Mogul (love the Toast campaign! so glad it's here), Bixby and others. I so hope the publishers create other Fisher anthologies.

25 October 2015

The Girl with the Wrong Name; Barnabas Miller

The Girl with the Wrong NameThe Girl with the Wrong Name by Barnabas Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Theo's life changed forever towards the end of her junior year of high school, when something happened in her room late one night. Since then she's been hiding from friends, rarely going out unless it's to film others (using a button cam). One day she meets Andy, a young man obsessed with a woman he met in a "Before Sunrise" type encounter. Her desire to help him find her leads to all sorts of revelations about her life and her family, and the truth what happened That Night. Sadly, the denouement doesn't live up to the rest of the book, otherwise this would have been a solid five stars; as it is, 4.5.

ARC provided by publisher.

Pretending to be Erica; Michelle Painchaud

Pretending to Be EricaPretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A young girl is kidnapped - years later, she reappears. Or does she? "Erica" is actually a grifter named Violet, and her entire life has been perfecting her role before she reappears in the Silverman's life. But this is a grifter with a heart and something of a conscience, so you can imagine how well this all goes. Her struggle with her identity as Erica and her real life as Violet is very well drawn and any fish out of water readers will identify with it.

Into the Dangerous World; Julie Chibbaro

Into the Dangerous WorldInto the Dangerous World by Julie Chibbaro
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a teen visiting NYC in the 70s and then as a young adult living there in the 80s, I remember the graffiti covered trains and stations (and the movie Turk 187 - anyone else remember that?). While some was really beautiful, most of it was just tags defacing others property. The author here has tried to explain the why of how teens get into tagging, in some ways glorifying it; using a very naive character, Ror, as our entry into this world was a good choice. However, Staten Island is not the boonies (sorry, Manhattanites, but it isn't!) and the trauma of being ripped from her live on the commune to life in NYC isn't explored as deeply as it should have been. I also didn't see why it was set in 1984, when tagging and graffiti is still going strong (Banksy, anyone?). Maybe because there was no other way to give Ror the commune background?

Noble Warrior; Alan Sitomer

Noble WarriorNoble Warrior by Alan Sitomer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed reading Sitomer's first book, Caged Warrior, and didn't really see the need for a sequel but, well, here one is. This is a little bit more like Zadoff's Boy Nobody series, only with MMA rather than exciting technology. Sending a teen, even one like MD, into a prison seems excessive, and what happens there didn't ratchet up the tension it just saddened me about how MD was going to have to compromise who he was to survive. That, along with the double and triple crossing, lost stars.

Shattered Blue; Lauren Bird Horowitz

Shattered BlueShattered Blue by Lauren Bird Horowitz
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I loved the beginning of the book (except for the sheer number of time we were told that the school was called Harlow; on one page I think that word appears 10 times!). Noa's life post-Isla's death isn't easy and she's trying to hang on to "normal"; Callum's appearance is possibly a way back to that. But when who/what Callum is gets revealed, I lost all interest. This wasn't the best book in the Fae/Human genre and the writing just didn't hook me in enough to care. DNF.

ARC provided by publisher.

A Blossom of Bright Light; Suzanne Chazin

A Blossom of Bright Light (Jimmy Vega Mystery, #2)A Blossom of Bright Light by Suzanne Chazin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was oddly mixed: at times boring and at other times sad. The fictional setting, a town with both very wealthy whites and day-laboring Hispanics, is very well described, as are the people. The central mystery of whose baby, and what happened to the mother, is rather sad and realistic. But the interactions between Jimmy and Adele were what sank this for me - too much of the internal monologues, too many switches between narrators. This trend towards multiple POVs and creating "real" characters doesn't always work and editors should try to caution writers against it.

ARC provided by publisher.

15 October 2015

The Luckiest Woman Ever; Nell Goddin

The Luckiest Woman Ever (Molly Sutton Mysteries Book 2)The Luckiest Woman Ever by Nell Goddin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sophomore slump, or downward trend? I was less impressed with this mystery than the first Molly Sutton, but not enough to give up... yet. The good is that there was no discussion of "the girls", but the bad is the tincture showed up, sometimes the French was translated, and Molly's nosiness borders on absolute rudeness (how many cafe/restaurant scenes were there where she ignored her friend/companion in order to either mull over a clue or eavesdrop?). As for the mystery, the who was surprising but seemed to lack the evil intent of the serial killer. More of a mystery was who was leaking information to her Moroccan vacationing town bff, and whether or not they'll team up next time.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Guest Room; Chris Bohjalian

The Guest Room: A NovelThe Guest Room: A Novel by Chris Bohjalian
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading this, I kept thinking of Bonfire of the Vanities. The world Richard Chapman has constructed is destroyed in one evening, much like Sherman McCoy's does. And like that earlier book, we have three main voices: Richard, wife Kristin and Alexandra, the stripper hired for Richard brother's bachelor party. That last voice is the most difficult one to read as we hear her tale of life in Yerevan dancing, then being stolen and turned into a prostitute. Richard's voice vacillates from being angry to defensive and never quite becomes sympathetic; Kristen's is the most human of the narrators, the one we hope will have the happy ending - one she can live with, not necessarily the one we think is "happy". Ultimately what lost this book a star was the unsurprising ending. After Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, I'd hoped for something a little more.

ARC provided by publisher.

Eleanor; Jason Gurley

Eleanor: A NovelEleanor: A Novel by Jason Gurley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Young adult, new adult or just adult? I kept going back and forth over that... The magical realism took me by surprise, and I'm still not sure how well it worked but the story itself is strong. It's no stretch to imagine a family falling apart when one twin dies, or the struggle the survivor has (read Dandicat's Untwine for another take), and Eleanor's family and life aren't strong enough to be different. How that all plays out, how three generations of women (Eleanor the grandmother, Agnes the mother and Eleanor the daughter) grow up essentially motherless, and how Mea fits into all of that will definitely surprise readers. It could be a traditional family saga, but then the magical realism kicks in and kicks that genre up a notch.

ARC provided by publisher.

Archivist Wasp; Nicole Kornher-Stace

Archivist WaspArchivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I saw this in our New Books pile and thought, "hmmm". Then I started seeing reviews that said "this is amazing - read it!" so, well, I did. And am I ever glad. This isn't the easiest book to review, because it's such a genre mash-up, but the core is Wasp's journey (or journeys, since there's a emotional as well as physical one) away from being a solitary creature to being part of a community of sorts. The world she inhabits is dystopian, post-apocalyptic and primitive all at the same time, and while usually I'd complain about the world building being slight, in this case it makes sense: like Wasp, we end up wondering what is real, what has been made up and why that might have happened. There are so many questions left for us - and Wasp - and I have to say I like that part. How did the ghost's world become hers? What was the black goo the priest used? When did the Archivist position become so formalized? And so many more. There are clues, but not definitive answers. What is definitive is that Wasp, despite herself, learns to trust others, even if the "others" are the ghosts she's supposed to be studying.

Can't wait to recommend this to my dystopian fan students!

10 October 2015

The Meursault Investigation; Kamel Daoud

The Meursault InvestigationThe Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Anyone reading Camus' L'etranger should read this as a follow-up. It's not just a re-envisioning of the story - it's more than Jane Eyre's Wide Sargasso Sea - it declares that the "other" in this case are the occupying French, not the native Arabs, and that Camus' version is patronizing at best. Confession: it's been decades since I read the Camus version, so my memory of the plot and the killing of the Arab (not named by Camus, given life by Daoud) is vague. This can definitely be read as a stand-alone, particularly because the critical incident is explained and then elaborated on by the younger brother of the dead man, looking for some form of justice for his brother and family. The narrative style, a man talking to another man in a bar what appears to be many years later, gives the events an odd immediacy. By that I mean the fact that the passion felt over the death and aftermath still resonates for our narrator, and thus for us, even though it didn't happen mere days or months ago. The Algerian independence movement also comes into the story, and for those who don't know about the horrors of that time it's a good way to learn a little bit of why Camus may have written his book the way he did.

The Boys in the Boat; Daniel James Brown

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin OlympicsThe Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Since my time om the ENFYA committee, I've been on the lookout for more great non-fiction that reads like fiction, where the story is told in a way that doesn't just present the facts but also engages the emotions and while we might know what happened, we feel as though this is a fresh story. So, does this book live up to that standard? Yes. How a group of Depression Era boys became a team, and then a winning team, and then a team that beat Hitler at his Olympics is an exciting story to begin with: the descriptions of the cold, icy, pain filled practices and the competition between the boys to in the first or second boat also includes hints of how these boys became real men. At a time when the country was in shambles (the dust storm episode really brings that to light), here was something for people to hang on to and cheer about. That the author chose to follow a man whose personal story outside the sport was - to our eyes - tragic and incomprehensible adds to the sense that these are underdogs and the Olympic Gold is vindication and true triumph.

Copy provided by publisher.

The Abbey; James Martin

The Abbey: A Story of DiscoveryThe Abbey: A Story of Discovery by James Martin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For me, the first part of the book was far stronger than the second, which became much more about God and Jesus than about Anne and Mark and their journeys. It's clear that both have emotional problems and that the Abbey (and the monks) can help them heal, but at times the language used about God and Mary and prayer became a bit didactic (given that the author is a Jesuit it's perhaps not surprising). But until that point, there's a good contrast between secular Anne and Mark and the life at the Abbey, how having the structure of the day can be both a blessing and a curse, how people come to this life and why people might lose sight of God is well drawn. There were no surprises here, which also bothered me a little; I wanted something to be less predictable. On the other hand, for those readers of Christian fiction, this is probably perfect.

ARC provided by publisher.

04 October 2015

The Third Girl; Nell Goddin

The Third Girl (Molly Sutton Mysteries Book 1)The Third Girl by Nell Goddin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is supposed to be the first book in a mystery series, but the mystery is so far off-stage, and Molly's part in it so tangential - except when she virtually accidentally solves it - that I'm having a difficult time seeing it as a mystery. The setting, a semi-quaint village in France, has potential (and the description of both setting a food is gorgeous) as do some of the villagers, none of who are as quirky as, say, the villagers in Three Pines or Long Piddleton (a good thing!). The author also doesn't fall into the annoying habit of immediately translating the few French phrases she's using but allows readers to intuit via context clues. My biggest gripe was that Molly doesn't act her age, which is supposed to be late 30s, per the book, but without that stated fact she appears to be in her 20s. And really, all that conversation about "the girls"? Ugh. I rounded up from 3.5 because there's potential, but one more comment about them and I'm giving up!

ARC provided by publisher.

Heroes of the Dustbin; Tyler Whitesides

Heroes of the Dustbin (Janitors, #5)Heroes of the Dustbin by Tyler Whitesides
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cute middle grade fiction that will appeal to boys (and some girls) who loved the "Todd" series by Galveston. But beware: they need to read the first books before tackling this (I didn't, and it took a while to catch on)! The premise is cute, and readers will never look at cleaning products in the same way again... one hopes.

ARC provided by publisher.

Everything She Forgot; Lisa Ballantyne

Everything She ForgotEverything She Forgot by Lisa Ballantyne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really don't agree with the "edge-of-your-seat writing" comment on the blurb because the suspense is really more of an in the past, viewed through flashback type. That Margaret's life changes after her car accident isn't surprising, it's the memories she recovers that are. The other two plotlines follow George, a rather gormless Scot from a family that ruled its town via thuggery and threats, and Angus, a reporter looking to find George and the girl he's abducted. There's no real surprise when the stories merge in the present, hence the loss of the star. The brutality of George's family and his search for "someone who loves him" and Angus' towards his wife and children, but great love for his cow (seriously. his cow.) are, I think, supposed to have some greater significance than they do. If the publisher would stop promoting this as suspense/thriller/mystery and more of a recovered memory/family saga, there will be fewer disappointed readers because the story is good, it's just not in that genre.

ARC provided by publisher.

YOLO Juliet; William Shakespeare

YOLO Juliet (OMG Shakespeare)YOLO Juliet by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What can I say? Classic story, new twist. LOL. Or something like that.

The Song of Hartgrove Hall; Natasha Solomons

The Song of Hartgrove Hall: A NovelThe Song of Hartgrove Hall by Natasha Solomons
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Told in both the present tense and in flashbacks, there's a lot going on here: music, romance, more music (in the form of song collecting, family dynamics and whispers of anti-semitism and homophobia. The characters of Fox and Edie are well-drawn, the others less so, but what really takes pride of place is setting and music, both classical and folk (folk as in "rural country" not what we think of now as folk). At one point, George says that he is trying to reclaim Jerusalem in his farming methods and that Fox is doing the same with his song collecting. It's all very British. By the end, however, there were things that were not fully explained, like the real relationship between Fox and Edie (can't say more without spoilers) and what Jack's relationship to Hartgrove Hall is (again, no spoilers). With a little less serious intent vis-a-vis the music, this could be a good beach read. As it is, readers of Anne Rivers Siddons and Belva Plain may enjoy it.

ARC provided by publisher.