31 December 2018

Gamer Army; Trent Reedy

Gamer ArmyGamer Army by Trent Reedy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

WarCross meets Phantom Wheel (or Ender's Game). Nothing special.

Mega Robo Bros; Neill Cameron

Mega Robo Bros (The Phoenix Presents)Mega Robo Bros by Neill Cameron
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It seemed fine - but every time I try to read a graphic novel my eyes just glaze over.

OtherEarth; Jason Segel

Otherearth (Last Reality, #2)Otherearth by Jason Segel
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

If you haven't read OtherWorld you might have problems getting into this book. As it is, too many twists that ended up being obvious and telegraphed set pieces for me.

Copy provided by publisher.

The Jamie Drake Equation; Christopher Edge

The Jamie Drake EquationThe Jamie Drake Equation by Christopher Edge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jamie's dad is an astronaut, his mother is a sculptor and his grandfather was a rock star. And Jamie? He's semi-normal, trying to adjust to living with mom and grandpa while Dad is on the ISS. Then one day he finds himself at the old local observatory, and manages to download something from the Hubble Space Telescope. It gets weirder from there. It's the depiction of Jamie that elevates this, turning what could be a so-so book into something better.

Imposters; Scott Westerfeld

Impostors (Impostors, #1)Impostors by Scott Westerfeld
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Set in the same world as the Uglies series, but nothing really special. Readers who want a comfort SF read will enjoy.

This is War; Margaret Stohl

This is War (Cats vs. Robots #1)This is War by Margaret Stohl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You know I'm Team Cat all the way! A cute MG series start, with a thought-provoking ending: how intrusive are the devices we install in our houses (like Alexa and Nest). Min and Max have real feeling sibling relationship, adding to the charm of the book.

Waste of Space; Stuart Gibbs

Waste of Space (Moon Base Alpha, #3)Waste of Space by Stuart Gibbs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Stuart Gibbs is always a favorite author with my MG students and this book fits right in to their sense of humor and adventure. I'm not sure that there will be any further Moon Base Alpha books, which is a pity. The mystery of who poisoned Lars is technically the focus but really it's about the relationships and Dash's life on the base. Even though this is set in a moon base the descriptions of the spaces and food will resonate with any reader who has eaten institutional food or stayed in a lower-end motel/hotel.

30 December 2018

Where She Fell; Kaitlin Ward

Where She FellWhere She Fell by Kaitlin Ward
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So many questions at the end of this, like: what happened to Eliza's "mean girl" friends? why did the cave system act the way it did? what happened at the end? The depiction of the cave, Eliza's social anxiety, the people in the cave all just missed.

CatStronauts; Drew Brockington

CatStronauts: Robot RescueCatStronauts: Robot Rescue by Drew Brockington
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So cute! The isn't the usual cat book, with cats being preternaturally intelligent or cute but it's cats acting like humans (but with catnip!).

The Future Will be BS-Free; Will McIntosh

The Future Will Be BS-FreeThe Future Will Be BS-Free by Will McIntosh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While the science here is pretty vague, the philosophical questions about whether or not a truth app is a good idea resonate today. The entire idea is due to the rise of a dictator-like President and the teens creating it think that this could bring America back to its senses; that it could also create social havoc as people find out that their parents don't love them or that their neighbor is an adulterer doesn't cross their minds. By the time it does, it's too late. Bonus points for being set in an area I know pretty well (New City/Clarkstown/Pearl River NY).

Light Years; Kass Morgan

Light YearsLight Years by Kass Morgan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a year when I hadn't also read Skyward and Ignite the Stars this might have gotten a higher rating but... as it is, the plot and the world are in many ways retreads of other books (not just the two mentioned earlier, but also Red Rising and others). The ending, on a cliffhanger that is not only obvious but abrupt, also loses points.

Copy provided by publisher.

The City of Broken Magic; Mirah Bolender

City of Broken Magic (Chronicles of Amicae  #1)City of Broken Magic by Mirah Bolender
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The world feels very familiar: literally stratified cities, magic that works to kill monsters, etc.. That doesn't mean that this isn't the start of an engaging book, just that there's a little weakness in the world building that my mind was easily able to fill in based on other books.

The big plus here was Clae and his complicated relationship with the police, the population and his family. Laura's desire to be a Sweeper doesn't diminish even when faced with Clae's reluctance to explain a lot of their work to her (the city having decided that the history of Sweepers isn't important enough to teach) and the danger they find themselves in almost daily. Adding Okemo to the mix was just wonderful. Of course, that lack of history and knowledge lend themselves to future books, where I suppose we'll learn more about the Magi and those caves, not to mention other cities.

eARC provided by publisher.

Pitch Dark; Courtney Alameda

Pitch DarkPitch Dark by Courtney Alameda
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having read Shutter I was expecting more horror from this book (plus, look at that cover). Instead this is sci-fi, set in a world 400+ years in the future where a teen (Laura) who lives on a space ship commanded by her parents that scavenges/locates historic Earth relics meets a boy (Tuck) who was in stasis for 400 years, actually from the Earth Laura's family raids. The ship Tuck is on appears to be huge - it actually contains Yosemite National Park (????) - and it's unclear how large Laura's is, but a terrorist group that has managed to survive over 400 years (again, ????) manages to crash Laura's ship into Tuck's. That's only one of the things that made me go "huh". The big one was how the humans on Tuck's ship mutated into the various alien creatures that hunt those who remain human.

I did round this up from 3.5 because readers who can suspend disbelief on those questions will enjoy it.

Attack of the 50 Foot Wallflower; Christian McKay Heidicker

Attack of the 50 Foot WallflowerAttack of the 50 Foot Wallflower by Christian McKay Heidicker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Totally a nostalgia fest, with all the 50s/60s science-fiction references. And in some ways, this reminded me of Pratchett's Only You Can Save Mankind, one of my favorite non-Discworld books. Phoebe was a great character, but Beth? Her insertion into things made no sense when she started talking about modern times. Yes, there are problematic stereotypes but given the source materials they make sense. Points off for Beth and the ease of figuring out who Dad was.

Voyage of the Dogs; Greg Van Eekhout

Voyage of the DogsVoyage of the Dogs by Greg Van Eekhout
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There's an implicit assumption that a MG book about dogs won't be a huge tear-jerker, but that the voyage takes place on a ship called Laika didn't inspire confidence. The plucky nature of the dog crew, the Barkonauts, and their ability to work together to solve their dilemma was great and readers will enjoy how different each dog is from each other. There are some moments when I wasn't sure I would finish because, well, I have rules about animal books and crying.

We're Out of Here; Elise Gravel

We're Out of Here! (Olga, #2)We're Out of Here! by Elise Gravel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So cute. Definitely lower MG, and reading Book One would help. Olga's curiosity and sense of humor are going to appeal to the Wimpy Kid fans.

Stronger, Faster and More Beautiful; Arwen Elys Dayton

Stronger, Faster, and More BeautifulStronger, Faster, and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Anthologies are so difficult to sell to students, even one like this with interlocking stories (well, vaguely interlocking stories). The strength of each story varies and some, like the third about Tad Tadd, are pretty weak.

Copy provided by publisher.

Bunny vs. Monkey; Jamie Smart

Bunny vs. Monkey: Book ThreeBunny vs. Monkey: Book Three by Jamie Smart
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Meh. I didn't quite see the point, but perhaps younger readers (or those who have read the earlier books) might.

29 December 2018

Strange New World; Rachel Vincent

Strange New World (Brave New Girl, #2)Strange New World by Rachel Vincent
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Decent clone fiction, but not the best one I've read this year. Rounding up from 3.5 because I liked the relationships between Dahlia and Waverly, and Waverly and Hennessy.

Copy provided by publisher.

Sven Carter and the Android Army; Rob Vlock

Sven Carter  the Android ArmySven Carter and the Android Army by Rob Vlock
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Another MG SF series with a good sense of humor. The plot was a little over the place, and I had problems with some of the travel (where on I-90 is 2 hours from Buffalo and Schenectady? and how do you park an RV near Madison Square Garden?).

25 December 2018

Wildcard; Marie Lu

Wildcard (Warcross, #2)Wildcard by Marie Lu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a sequel to Warcross this is quite good, but it really helps to have read that book before this. There are so many crosses and doublecrosses in the plot that it was difficult to keep track, and at times I got frustrated trying to remember what was going on. And the Big Twist? Somewhat disappointing, although it was surprising.

Copy provided by publisher.

A Problematic Paradox; Eliot Sappingfield

A Problematic ParadoxA Problematic Paradox by Eliot Sappingfield
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I got the whole "my dad is a Very Different kind of genius" thing, and how that has affected Nikola. And that those types of genius aren't expected to live by our rules and that explanations are just, well, beneath them. But the idea that Nikola has supposed to just figure things out, like her school or what's going on there (or with her father)? That was a little too much.

And while classes were fun, often they felt rushed in terms of explanation. Maybe fewer scenes and more time in each would have helped.

Copy provided by publisher.

Stuck in the Stone Age; Geoff Rodkey

Stuck in the Stone AgeStuck in the Stone Age by Geoff Rodkey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Could have had a higher score if there weren't some very problematic stereotypes here. I enjoyed Tom Edison's belief that he was great at science and Dr. Morice's social anxiety. But the scenes in the stone age and the "translation" parts were just wrong.

Copy provided by publisher.

The Last Girl on Earth; Alexandra Blogier

The Last Girl on EarthThe Last Girl on Earth by Alexandra Blogier
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The premise is good: Earth has been taken over by an alien species and humans no longer exist. Li, however, was rescued by her "father" and he and his other daughter spend time training Li and protecting her from being detected. Time is running out as her schooldays end and the start of her mandatory military service starts.

What fails is the execution: the characters are uninteresting. The fact that this is an incredibly advanced race and yet no one figures out Li is human doesn't fit. And the romances don't work (one is abusive, the other unbelievable). Plus, the twist at the end? Nope nope nope.

Copy provided by publisher.

22 December 2018

Lifelik3; Jay Kristoff

Lifel1k3 (Lifelike, #1)Lifel1k3 by Jay Kristoff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you don't pick up on the parallels to the Romanovs, well... you need to read more history. In addition to that, the Big Twist made this book feel like the third (or fourth?) book with That Twist I've read this year alone.

Copy provided by publisher.

Kingdom of the Blind; Louise Penny

Kingdom of the Blind (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #14)Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The ending left me with a sense of foreboding over what will happen in the next book (if there is a next book)? Relationships are sundered, and Gamache's life feels like it's come around to almost where we met him. The denizens of Three Pines are to some extent encased in amber, with dollops of favorite moments spread throughout (Ruth and Rose being F.I.N.E., for example, or Clara being a painted mess). The mystery itself might have been better, but given what's going on in my life just now it felt like the perfect read.

One quibble: at the beginning of the series, there was more a Quebec flair to the plots. What happened to Jean-Guy saying tabarnak or calice?? For a final-feeling book, that was definitely missing.

Strange Days; Constantine J. Singer

Strange DaysStrange Days by Constantine J. Singer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A close-to-DNF. The tech guru and the "Witness" program just felt too forced - the explanations were rushed, the world-setting was weak and there was no real reason to care about Alex or anyone else.

Copy provided by publisher.

This Splintered Silence; Kayla Olson

This Splintered SilenceThis Splintered Silence by Kayla Olson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As YA SF, this was a 5 but as a "locked room" mystery, or an original plot? Somewhat less. My students who love And Then There Were None will love this, however. The characters are one-note, despite our being told numerous times that Lindley's heart is "cracking".

21 December 2018

Mayfly; Jeff Sweat

MayflyMayfly by Jeff Sweat
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Almost DNF'd this - it's so much like Gone, right down to the Kingdom part.

Seafire; Natalie C. Parker

Seafire (Seafire, #1)Seafire by Natalie C. Parker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Every review I've seen is so excited about the idea of female pirates - ok, that was somewhat fun, but there's more to the book than that. The author does a great job of creating places but not as great a job creating people. The minor characters were the ones that felt most interesting, while Cala, Pisces and the Bullet were less so. Also, why no map???

One Giant Leap; Heather Kaczynski

One Giant LeapOne Giant Leap by Heather Kaczynski
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Predictable. And I felt like I'd read this before. As the second in a duology it was easy for me to figure out what was going on (always a good thing) but the only time I really cared or got interested was when we meet the vrog - they were something very different.

The Lake of Dead Languages; Carol Goodman

The Lake of Dead LanguagesThe Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I understand why there are so many comparisons to The Secret History, and of all the books that I've heard that about this does come remarkably close but... it's just close.

There were elements I loved, like the atmosphere of Heart Lake and the town of Corinth. This is a part of the world I know well, having spent decades in Central NY. And the school/lake are based on Mohonk! But the flashbacks? Those could have been done a little better. And the twists were predictable to anyone who has (as I have) read a lot of thriller/mystery books. Especially the Big Twist at the end.

29 November 2018

Phantom Wheel;

Phantom Wheel (A Hackers Novel)Phantom Wheel by Tracy Deebs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Six strangers, all teens, all incredible hackers are "recruited" by the "CIA". A diverse group ethnically and socially and they manage to bond. Not only bond, they take on a major company. Any guesses how that goes?

Copy provided by publisher.

The Spaceship Next Door; Gene Doucette

The Spaceship Next DoorThe Spaceship Next Door by Gene Doucette
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

At times this book made me think of Our Town's narrator: over here is the mill, beyond that road is a farm, etc.. Because this was originally independently published, then turned into an audiobook before finally reaching a major publisher the editing is minimal (ok, I know publishing houses don't really do great editing these days, but I live in hope). Trimming some of the descriptions and adding more character action would have helped, and then there's the pacing!

Copy provided by publisher.

28 November 2018

Evermore; Sara Holland

Evermore (Everless, #2)Evermore by Sara Holland
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not quite as good as Everless and needs more "previously" material for those who haven't read that book. Having said that... Jules' search for answers to who she is as the Alchemist and how to kill the Sorceress leads to more heartbreak and some interesting places (I particularly liked the "hidden" house). Fewer flashbacks would have been nice since they tended to halt the action without adding as much as the author is convinced they do. It felt as though there was one good book between the two, and had the action, world building and mythology been spread out better, this would have been amazing.

eARC provided by publisher.

Autonomous; Andy Marino

AutonomousAutonomous by Andy Marino
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Imagine KITT with a HAL personality. Or something like that. Add in four unlikable characters and stir. That's this book.

Copy provided by publisher.

What Not to Do If You Turn Invisible; Ross Welford

What Not to Do If You Turn InvisibleWhat Not to Do If You Turn Invisible by Ross Welford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cute MG/YA book about what happens when a relatively unpopular girl becomes invisible (sometimes) and how her friendship with a London-born lighthouse enthusiast geek boy develops. The whole invisibility thing is entirely implausible, but the relationship makes up for that.

Copy provided by publisher.

27 November 2018

The Third Mushroom; Jennifer L. Holm

The Third MushroomThe Third Mushroom by Jennifer L. Holm
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ellie's back, this time with a problem with mushrooms (she doesn't like them). And Melvin, her reverse-aging grandfather has moved back in, just in time to help with an extra credit science project. The plot isn't a surprise, but the science will give readers an interesting view of how research happens.

Copy provided by publisher.

Defy the Worlds; Claudia Gray

Defy the Worlds (Constellation, #2)Defy the Worlds by Claudia Gray
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rounding up from 3.5: the "previously" part needs a little work - but for those who have read Defy the Stars will easily be able to pick up the threads of the plot. For much of the book, Abel and Noemi are separated and the parallel plots eventually intersect when Burton Mansfield puts his Master Plan into effect. The book is predictable, with the exception of Simon and Abel's reaction to him.

Not sure if there will be a Book Three; if there is, I probably won't read it.

The Secret Spring; Emma Atkins Jacobs

The Secret Spring: A Mystery Romance for Young PeopleThe Secret Spring by Emma Atkins Jacobs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's been years since I last read it (nearly 50, I think) and for a long time I thought I'd never find this book because I remembered so little about it. What did I think this time around? In a word, charming. When I first read it, there's absolutely no way the history would have sunk in, nor would the romance. Now it's a time capsule of life over a hundred years ago, when amusements were so much simpler and there was a shared culture through (among other things) the Chautauqua movement. As with many books of the era, this is gentle - the mystery is very slight, the romance barely there, the hijinks quaint.

26 November 2018

Fall Down Dead; Stephen Booth

Fall Down Dead (Ben Cooper & Diane Fry, #18)Fall Down Dead by Stephen Booth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Is Booth ever going to have Fry and Cooper work together again? Is the only reason he keeps inserting Fry into the action is because he started the series with them as a duo and can't stop?

Beyond that, the mystery is relatively interesting. Again, lots of history of the place (in this case, Kinder Scout and the Mass Tresspass) and scenery, plus murder. The clues are there, if you know which ones to pay attention to - I was pretty sure I'd figured it out, but was surprised by the motive despite having read the clues earlier. There are also some lines of inquiry that could have been taken a step further, but clearly weren't going to go anywhere. That's all the Cooper stuff. Fry? Appears in the beginning as part of another investigation (never completely solved) and then goes off into a separate story that only incredibly tangentially intersects with the main story. Sigh.

The Once and Future Geek; Mari Mancusi

The Once and Future Geek (The Camelot Code #1)The Once and Future Geek by Mari Mancusi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It had to happen: an update to Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, with a gaming twist. I'm not sure that there's anything that needs to be added in terms of summary, except that it's relatively cute and perfect for middle grade readers.

Skyward; Brandon Sanderson

Skyward (Skyward, #1)Skyward by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've loved Murderbot, Martha Wells' creation, since reading All Systems Red. Now Brandon Sanderson gives me MBot (could be Murderbot, but probably not) and I'm in love again.

This is a relatively standard story about the daughter of a supposed coward who only wants to join her system's air defense and, of course, is told no because her father was a coward. Predictably, she somehow gets in and then - no surprise - ends up being one of the best pilots in her year. What elevates this is the addition of MBot, a fighter plane that looks nothing like any plane Spensa (or anyone on the planet) has seen. Plus MBot has a personality that just won't quit, including an obsession with mushrooms. The partnership of MBot and Spensa is fun, and their discovery of who/what the Krell are is even a little surprising. Loss of points, though, for lack of editorial shears.

I can't wait to read the next book.

In the Galway Silence; Ken Bruen

In the Galway Silence (Jack Taylor, #14)In the Galway Silence by Ken Bruen
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Decent mystery completely ruined by writing style. Not reading another.

15 November 2018

The XY; Virginia Bergin

The XYThe XY by Virginia Bergin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Readers of The XY might read The Children of Men next, as both deal with a world in which some virus is affecting the population. In this case, males die. The few who appear healthy are sent to Sanctuaries, kept healthy as scientists try to find a cure. Of course they provide sperm so that the women (not affected) can have children; healthy boys are given back to the Sanctuary for safety. That's just the way it is now, sixty years later; the once-was is only alive in the memories of the grandmummas. You'd think this all-female society would be better than a mixed one, but... no. The discovery of an XY (what we'd call a boy) who has escaped his Sanctuary leads to something of an unraveling of River's world.

Sadly, there's a lot missing here: how the society really functions, for example. It's hinted at, but not really revealed. River seems to realize that her village is technologically challenged, but the why isn't clear given that there are cities and air bases that function is a more familiar way. Some reviews talk about gender roles and sexuality representation, I'll just say that the characters feel stereotypical and the plot more The Giver/The City of Ember than necessary.

eARC provided by publisher.

The Blood Road; Stuart MacBride

The Blood Road (Logan McRae #11)The Blood Road by Stuart MacBride
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Logan's life seems to be settling down... maybe. He's in a relationship, on meds to deal with the ptsd hallucinations, and Roberta Steele is not working in the same department. Of course that goes awry when the understaffed police department needs him to cover an investigation that only tangentially relates to Professional Standards. The usually cast of characters is here, used well and seemingly evolving with each book (not usual in many series). As for the mystery, the whodunnit part isn't overwhelmingly obvious but sharp readers will figure it out.

14 November 2018

The Girls at 17 Swann Street; Yara Zgheib

The Girls at 17 Swann StreetThe Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved that this home for women with eating disorders includes people who overeat, not just those with anorexia and bulimia. Each of the women is clearly separate from the others, both in terms of disease and background, which mimics the real world. And they are women, not girls (although one or two are younger than the others, and may have been battling their disorder since they were girls), another thing not usually covered in books like this. How slowly this can take over your life, how it affects your family and friends, and how difficult recovery can be is wonderfully depicted.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Nanny Diaries; Emma McLaughlin

The Nanny Diaries (Nanny, #1)The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wanted to slap Nanny - she's as unlikable as the Xs. While I recognized everything about her life (I've worked in schools filled with families much like the X family; and really? Dorian's? with no mention of the Preppy Murder??) and understood why she took the job in the first place, that she allowed the Xs to take over her life while complaining to the reader about the incursion was just annoying.

Slender Man; Anonymous

Slender ManSlender Man by Anonymous
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Slender Man is one of those eARCs that loses something due to the format, since much of the action is driven by texts, group chats, reddit posts and other social media artifacts. Having said that, the story of how a school community reacts to the disappearance of one of the popular girls, particularly after it emerges that one of the lesser popular guys is a close friend of hers. Max knows that there's something missing from the investigation, and he's determined to find out what happened while keeping information from the police and his therapist. One problem Max has had is insomnia and nightmares - and now they're getting worse. Plus there's the mysterious guy "helping" him online... what does he know?

This is definitely more creepy and less terrifying, perhaps because of the at-a-remove format.

eARC provided by publisher.

13 November 2018

The Zanna Function; Daniel Wheatley

The Zanna FunctionThe Zanna Function by Daniel Wheatley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not a math/science person (much to my father's dismay) so much of this went over my head - which could also be a problem (hah!) for teen readers. I suspect that much suspension of belief will be required from those who are math/science people. The world of the school Zanna attends and the relationships she forms will be recognizable: once again, we have an ordinary person wisked away into an unusual circumstance because they're special and might - just might - be able to save things from falling apart. Because this is Zanna's first year at St. Pommeroy's, it's not impossible that there will be at least one sequel.