28 August 2017

The Apprentice Witch; James Nicol

The Apprentice WitchThe Apprentice Witch by James Nicol
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Charming story about a world in which magic and non-human creatures exist (that moon hare? so cute!) but loses points because Our Heroine and the supporting characters are one note. We got it, Arianwyn is a klutz and something of a disappointment. While she does grow some in confidence during the book, every now and then it reads as though she was getting away from the author's first idea so let's bring back Clumsy Arianwyn. Everyone else was decidedly stuck as whomever they were when we first met them. The world-building was a little odd: is this closer to our world (telephones!) or an older, more medieval version? Having said all this, middle grade readers probably won't have these qualms and I can see this being a hit.

ARC provided by publisher.

Amina's Voice; Hena Khan

Amina's VoiceAmina's Voice by Hena Khan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Oh so predictable. But because this "stars" a Pakistani-Muslim-American (with a Korean immigrant BFF) it's a good addition to the collection as older, less circulated books about girls and friendship and overcoming fears are removed.

Telling Tales; Ann Cleeves

Telling Tales: A Vera Stanhope MysteryTelling Tales: A Vera Stanhope Mystery by Ann Cleeves
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's weird reading this just days after watching the TV adaptation: the difference between Cleeves' Vera (suffering excema, grossly overweight) and Blethyn's (with a "bit o'lippy" and some decent clothes she'd be attactive) is highlighted. Also, the differences between the print and the tv treatments, where settings several characters are either added or missing.

Still... Here we have Vera technically out of her element, asked in to revisit a case rather than investigate a new one because as someone out of the area she can be impartial. Only later in the book does Joe show up (and her thoughts about him? interesting...) to lend a hand. Early Vera is an interesting mix of self-aware and bull-in-china-shop and I quite like her.

This is Book Two in the series, and in a few weeks the new book (Eight, I think) is coming out. Now that will be great to compare.

27 August 2017

Blindspot; Mahzarin R. Banaji

Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good PeopleBlindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaji
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Slight, and very repetitive. Also, it's great that we get a long discussion about our blind spots (or, as the author calls them, mindbugs) but there's little to nothing about how to correct for them.

20 August 2017

The Hazel Wood; Melissa Albert

The Hazel WoodThe Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Why do Alice and Ella keep moving around? Unexpectedly leaving homes and cities in the middle of the night, sometimes because something has happened. Something weird. Then Ella's reclusive author-of-tales-of-the-weird mother dies, and perhaps everything will be alright. And it is... for a few months. It appears as though Althea (Ella's mother and Alice's grandmother) and her stories may be behind it all... That search for answers is really well done.

The questions of what a Story is, how they get transmitted and how they live in the world aren't new. This exploration of some of the answers is certainly creative and doesn't give us cute Disney stories but more gruesome Gimm-like ones (a huge plus!!). If only the world building had been a bit stronger, this could have been a solid five star. As it is, it's a shade over four but a highly recommended read for those who love their stories a bit on the dark side.

ARC provided by publisher.

18 August 2017

They Both Die at the End; Adam Silvera

They Both Die at the EndThey Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ok, I confess: I like Death. I'm not saying I have a death-wish, but the idea of DEATH (in the Pratchettverse) and books about him (her? it?) as a character or plot twist (ok, reading Sunshine and Love Story as a young teen may have had something to do with that) is one of my jams. And books like Denton Little's Death Date or the "Dead is..." series play into that. So of course I wanted to read this!

The premise is akin to the Denton Little premise: you get a phone call that says, essentially, today's your last day. An entire industry has sprung up around it, complete with an app that pairs you with a Last Friend and a Make-a-Moment amusement park. We have Mateo and Rufus, from different worlds, using the app and spending their last day together, bonding a Last Friends. In a very odd way, this doesn't feel fake! Maybe the timeline is accelerated, but they do feel as though had they'd met elsewhere, they would still have connected and become friends. But the constant switching of POVs was annoying (please, publishers: make authors stop!!). So only four stars.

ARC provided by publisher.

As You Wish; Chelsea Sedoti

As You WishAs You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What makes the caves in Madison special? The wishing. The bigger question is why do the caves grant wishes? Of course, that's never fully explored. What does get explored is the tried-and-true cliche "be careful what you wish for" and how those wishes can really, years later, haunt you. Eldon's deep fear that he will wish incorrectly leads him to ask a variety of his townspeople about their wishes and their experiences in an effort to figure out his wish is done sensitively. However, the side plot about his sister detracts from that at important moments. His wish does tie in with what we know of him and who he's become; that we never really learn how it affects everyone else (beyond the short term) is a little disappointing but understandable.

ARC provided by publisher.

Nothing; Annie Barrows

NothingNothing by Annie Barrows
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is what teenage girls sound like: the BFF code/jokes, the levels of like/love/angst, etc.. Pitch perfect. And yes, this is (like Seinfeld infamously was) about "nothing", the "nothing" that goes into our daily lives particularly when we're teen girls in high school. What stopped this from being a five-star was the odd decision to alternate chapters between first and third person. No idea why that was thought to be a good idea (perhaps, better differentiate between Charlotte and Franklin?) but it does get distracting.

ARC provided by publisher.

I Hate Everyone But You; Gaby Dunn

I Hate Everyone But YouI Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Formatting as both texts and emails was innovative a few years ago. Now? Not so much. And the plot, such as it is, is not quite YA, not quite "new adult" but tries to be a little bit of both. Two BFFs, one on each coast, talking about their first year in college (plus sororities, boys, drugs, classes, etc. - in other words, normal life) really did read as being in a real voice but, as is real life, rather boring. That might appeal to teens, but I suspect they'd want something a little more to keep reading.

ARC provided by publisher.

13 August 2017

The Empress; S.J. Kincaid

The Empress (The Diabolic #2)The Empress by S.J. Kincaid
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Despite a decent attempt at "previously..." the mythology, history and plot really require having read Book 1. Readers coming into this series here will be totally lost.

ARC provided by publisher.

Moxie; Jennifer Mathieu

MoxieMoxie by Jennifer Mathieu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

i feel so old: the Riot Grrll thing feels like it happened yesterday, but it was 20 years ago. 20. And I was in my 30s, so a little old to embrace the "new" message of female empowerment. Still...

While the message here is great, that you can change things that are blatantly wrong and unfair by bringing them out into the light, the story is incredibly predictable. This may not matter to teen readers, particularly those who may decide to use some of the tactics and methods that Viv uses, but it bothered me that there was nothing surprising here. It's like Sarah Dessen went to feminism school.

ARC provided by publisher.

06 August 2017

Flame in the Mist; Renee Ahdieh

Flame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist, #1)Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The setting, feudal Japan, is evocatively described and made this reader want more. Unfortunately, the plot was weaker than the setting. The revenge theme was muddy, there's something that might be magic but might just be poison, and some of the action scenes felt a bit poorly planned. It was great that our heroine wasn't some superheroine but prone to rashness and making mistakes; the love story was less persuasive. There's a sequel, if not more, which may have been the problem - watering things down to stretch into more than one volume isn't always a good idea.

My Future Ex-Girlfriend; Jake Gerhardt

My Future Ex-GirlfriendMy Future Ex-Girlfriend by Jake Gerhardt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I suspect many male middle grade readers will find themselves here, as either Duke, Sam or Chollie. They may even learn something about relationships. Not a bad thing!

Felix Yz; Lisa Bunder

Felix YzFelix Yz by Lisa Bunker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A kind of odd mixture: there's a lot going on, but perhaps a bit too much. The major plot surrounds Felix, who at age three was somehow fused with an alien being during a scientific accident. This has led to physical issues not to mention the emotional and psychological ones of having another being inside his brain. And, in 30 days (the book is a countdown) there will be a Procedure to - they hope - separate the two. Then there's the Felix-and-Hector friendship, or possibly more. And Hector being mixed-race. And Felix's Granby, a gender-fluid grandparent who spends half the week as Vern, half as Vera (and one day naked) using the pronoun "vo". And Mom's soon-to-be former boyfriend and possible new girlfriend.

I love that the diversity isn't a preachy one. And that Felix is relatively normal, given the whole embedded alien thing. But, is it too much? I wonder if the alien part of the story, which is fascinating enough to hold our interest, isn't overshadowed by the gender-fluidity all the other stuff. Or how much stronger each side would have been had they been given their own story.

You May Already Be a Winner; Ann Dee Ellis

You May Already Be a WinnerYou May Already Be a Winner by Ann Dee Ellis
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Predictable story about a young girl coping with a broken family (Dad gone, Mom unable to cope).

04 August 2017

Monsterland; James Crowley

MonsterlandMonsterland by James Crowley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We're definitely not in Kansas here! This quest adventure is a great twin to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz except with monsters (Franklin Prometheus! Dwight!). The sense of fun with the genre is evident and this is a great addition to the October scary/haunted/monster story display.

All the Crooked Saints; Maggie Steifvater

All the Crooked SaintsAll the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With so much attention today on diverse voices and different experiences, this could be a great addition to a collection; having said that, there will probably be some uproar over cultural appropriation and writing outside your experience. Neither of which should matter, as the culture being appropriated is essentially made-up/heavily fictionalized and the experience is magical realism within that culture so... just read, ok?

The writing is, as is all of Steifvater's work, both lush and precise. There are gorgeous images (the desert! the pilgrims!) and yet they're never overly written. As much as I appreciated the writing, at times I found some of the repetition annoying (but that's me, not all readers) and the plot a bit predictable. Overall, I can't wait to share this with readers.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Girl in Between; Sarah Carroll

The Girl in BetweenThe Girl in Between by Sarah Carroll
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Homeless teens are a rarity in YA lit, which makes this story so important and yet it's presented almost as an adventure thus lessening any impact it may have had on readers. It's clear that Ma has problems, and that our unnamed main character is scared (and hungry) but beyond that? Perhaps this was better in outline than fleshed out.

A Map for Wrecked Girls; Jessica Taylor

A Map for Wrecked GirlsA Map for Wrecked Girls by Jessica Taylor
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So predictable, both in plot and in structure (intercut "how we got here" sections). Yawn. Redeeming factor? Not too many lessons learned.

All Rights Reserved; Gregory Scott Katsoulis

All Rights Reserved (Word$ #1)All Rights Reserved by Gregory Scott Katsoulis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The idea that your words - all words - and gestures are subject to copyright and royalty payments is a bit horrific but somehow makes sense given today's litigious society. So fast forward to an unspecified somewhat dystopian future and voila, the Word$ series. I know people today frequently don't know what is a trademark (eg, Xerox or Kleenex) vs the generic (eg, photocopy or tissue), and as we sue over perceived slights and infringements things could move in this direction; that families have to pay for ancestral "illegalities"is equally interesting, given the millions who used Napster and other such sites.

So far, so good. But... the dome. The plucky girl who decides, suddenly, not to be Branded or make her Last Day speech. The sparking of a resistance movement. It all sounds just a little too familiar. Still, the ideas are thought provoking enough to make this a recommended read.

ARC provided by publisher.