07 January 2018

The Immortalists; Chole Benjamin

The ImmortalistsThe Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book is getting so much love, but for me? DNF. It was so slow (glacially slow) at the start, with no reason to care about the characters, and then as we moved forward into the modern era, the POVs started to shift and, well, I just couldn't.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Knowledge; Martha Grimes

The Knowledge: A Richard Jury MysteryThe Knowledge by Martha Grimes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After some down (or lesser) books, this is a worthy entry in the Jury series. Solid mystery, less of the quirky characters that inhabit Long Pidd (no Aunt Agatha!!) and a nice homage to the Holmes Baker Street Irregulars, plus, I think, a touch of Lord Peter (circa Murder Must Advertise). Is it all believable? Of course not - air traffic would never let Patty travel the way she does. Still, it was nice to see that the series has returned to form!

ARC provided by publisher.

Grist Mill Road; Christopher J. Yates

Grist Mill RoadGrist Mill Road by Christopher J. Yates
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Don't start this book if the idea of cruelty and the unintended consequences thereof, particularly when enacted by young boys, is going to be a problem. The way in which Patch and Matthew nearly destroy Hannah's life, and how their actions play out years later feels over the top, yet somehow works. What was less believable was how Hannah reacts in the modern day, as is her relationship with both Patch and the police (I bought she was a crime reporter, not the lengths Mikey went to for her). Add to that the multiple POVs, the way we don't see how Matthew changes over the years, we just see him as changed, and the improbable ending (including the One Twist that puts the ending in motion)... points got lost. More of Patch's cooking would have been nice. As mystery/thriller/suspense books go, this isn't bad, but it's not really unique either.

ARC provided by publisher.

Tarnished City; Vic James

Tarnished City (Dark Gifts, #2)Tarnished City by Vic James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you've read The Gilded Cage you'll enjoy Tarnished City but if you haven't, you'll have a difficult time getting into this world and the plot because so much depends on knowing how the world is set up and who is who (and what position they hold). The future of Luke and Abi, let alone the Jardines (and their political power) are explored, leaving readers with yet another cliffhanger until the next book arrives. Lord Crovan's castle and the power (this time, a magical one) is a great addition to the series, and the relatively few plot twists are doled out at just the right times. What's even better is that there are several ways this could end... we'll just have to wait and see.

ARC provided by publisher.

Speak No Evil; Uzodinma Iweala

Speak No Evil: A NovelSpeak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh, so close to perfect! It's the last third(ish), the story we get from Meredith's POV, that makes this less than five star. But Niru? His story is wonderfully told: from his questioning his sexuality, his friendships and his relationship with Meredith, to his father's reactions and his time in Nigeria. The depictions and language are clear, with little that makes readers wonder why this or that passage was included. I wonder how many Niru's I've met without knowing; one hopes their lives end better than this one's does.

This is an author to watch for.

ARC provided by publisher.

How to Be Safe; Tom McAllister

How to Be SafeHow to Be Safe by Tom McAllister
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Anna's story was supposed to be prescient, one that we could identify with given the moment we're living in, with social media and quick accusations and then, sadly, few opportunities to remove the stigma from the victim of false identification. But... not. It's slow, it's scattered and it failed to hold this reader's interest. I didn't care about Anna or her story, much less that of her brother or friends.

ARC provided by publisher.

Only Child; Rhiannon Navin

Only ChildOnly Child by Rhiannon Navin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Great premise poorly executed. Seeing how a family reacts to and can be destroyed by the loss of a member via a shooting incident through the eyes of its youngest member is incredibly timely, but all too frequently Zach's seven-year-old-voice sounded too much like what adult Zach might sound like looking back on the shooting that killed his brother. The opening, set in the classroom, was pitch perfect but after? No. Adults writing a child's voice is always tricky, particularly when writing this type of story, the type that requires both emotion (which the author nails) and explanation (which is where this book all too often gets wrong).

ARC provided by publisher.

Macbeth; Jo Nesbo

MacbethMacbeth by Jo Nesbø
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Oh, how disappointing this was. I love "the Scottish play" and Jo Nesbo, so what could go wrong? Well... to start, there was no real need to include all the characters in the original play (ok, maybe a few were left out, but honestly it would be very few). Let's face it, Shakespeare gave us a lot in that play and some editing could have been done by authors wanting to update or create a new version. Nesbo's trademark grittiness is there, but because he tried to closely hew to the plot it feels forced. And Nesbo forced isn't great Nesbo!

I did love the reimagining of Lady Macbeth as a fully separate person from Macbeth, the way in which we got insight into her motivations that we don't get in the original. Macbeth's even more of a cipher in some ways here, while Hecate is real and as dangerous as any god. The pacing is similar to that of the play, or Nesbo's Harry Hole series, with action followed by slow passages that really drag.

Having read many (if not all) of the Hogarth series, one question came up - how does the play/author match happen?

ARC provided by publisher.

The Chalk Man; C.J. Tudor

The Chalk ManThe Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A group of kids, improbably friends in the way that often happens at school, find their friendship tested and frayed over the course of one summer... but then, years later, that friendship and those events are the key to the modern day mystery of one of the group's murder. So far, so good.

The problem is that the characters are more one-dimensional than they should be for this to work well. The 1986 timeline was actually the more interesting one, the one where we meet the friends and learn about their lives; by 2016, the only real surprise is Chloe and whether she's just an add-on or part of the overall picture. There's nothing that surprised me about the older versions of the friends, nothing that made me wonder about how they'd ended up the way they had (professionally or personally).

Still, for lovers of suspense and surprise twists, this will be a good addition and the author shows real promise (this is a debut) that I'm eager to see develop.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Other Mother; Carol Goodman

The Other MotherThe Other Mother by =Carol Goodman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Less a mystery or thriller than a psychological suspense, with several moments of "wait... what?" thrown in, this story of Daphne (or Laurel) is really great up until the end, when the twists become just a little too improbable for readers. To be honest, that surprised me because this type of book usually doesn't have so many twists as to trigger that response, usually they stop just before then. I did wonder about the description of Post-Partum Mood Disorder and the support group - I have no idea how true the group experience is, even given the need to have it fit into the overall plot (more would be a spoiler). On the other hand, points for not including "girl" somewhere in the title!

ARC provided by publisher.

Beneath the Sugar Sky; Seanan McGuire

Beneath the Sugar Sky (Wayward Children, #3)Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A wonderful addition to the series! You can read this as a stand-alone, which is one of the ways I judge how well a series book works (is there a lot of "previously"? can anyone access the book?) - and this book is great in that way.

The worlds that the author creates feel familiar but only because they're the worlds we always read about and want to visit, the worlds that children always somehow manage to find a way into and that adults can't find. Here there's a great homage to Baum's world, specifically the town of Bunbury and country of Merryland (ok, that's how I saw it, ymmv) with a side of Willie Wonka. I can't wait to see which doors and what worlds we explore next.

ARC provided by publisher.

Truly Devious; Maureen Johnson

Truly Devious (Truly Devious, #1)Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was so excited about this until the very end - it's not just that there's a serious cliffhanger, nor that the mystery is unsolved, it's that Stevie just loses credibility when she decides that she's going to solve Haynes' death on her own. Her trying to solve the mystery of what happened Way Back When made sense, but the current death? Her methods were a bit scattershot, not to mention left me wondering why she didn't talk to someone about what she was doing. As far as her initial reason for wanting to go to Ellingham Academy goes, it was fine. The way in which she investigates is again a little scattershot, with a few clues that seem to be deliberately hidden from readers by the author when they could have been revealed. There's one piece that I think I know the answer to, but because this will get a sequel (or more) that will have to wait.

A stand-alone would have been far better; Stevie could have solved the Ellingham disappearances/murders, then moved on to other crimes had a series really been necessary.

ARC provided by publisher.

01 January 2018

Bllood Fable; Oisin Curran

Blood FableBlood Fable by Oisín Curran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set in part at a failing Zen Buddhist community in Maine and in part in a story woven by the unnamed 11-year-old narrator, this is in part a look at leadership and how it can go wrong. The author never tries to make the narrator too prescient, too old for his years (there are obvious things that we can conclude while reading that he seems curious about but doesn't understand) - a difficult line to walk and one that's been walked well. And yet... is he completely unaware? The story-within-the-story sometimes suggests that there's a parallel to the "real world" that would otherwise be impossible.

If only we'd gotten a little bit more about life in New Pond and a little less of the made-up world, this would have been a solid five star.

Unearthed; Amie Kaufman

Unearthed (Unearthed, #1)Unearthed by Amie Kaufman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've been looking for the CS Lewis quote about science fiction, the one where he mentions that really good SF posits a really different world, and that writers should do something different with that world rather than setting, say, Romeo and Juliet out in space. As I read Unearthed that quote kept tickling in the back of my brain because this book? The world isn't new. Neither is the plot.

Set on an earth-like planet, one we're interested in because something (it appears to be global warming, but isn't explicit) has greatly disrupted life on Earth and we could use technology and/or a new place to settle, we meet our two narrators, Mia and Jules. One is the scrappy scavenger doing an illegal heist, the other is the genius teen looking to explore a new civilization. They meet, they join forces, they argue, etc.. There are glyphs to deciper, puzzles to solve, etc. And that's one of the biggest problems - so much of this is visual, and yet we're dealing with print. Imagine the Indiana Jones movies as books and you've pretty much got it. And if readers don't get the Huge Cliffhanger Plot Twist before it's explicit, they haven't done a lot of reading before. I'm not talking about subtle signs, I'm talking it's pretty much spelled out towards the end (before the ending, that is).

The other problem is that this has chapters alternating between Mia and Jules' POVs, and as a result there are far too many instances of information being repeated. Once was fine, twice was too much. If only there'd been an editor or pre-reader who had asked why we needed to have relatively minor things reiterated... but there wasn't.

So points for some of the plot, loss of points for repetition, the cliffhanger and the need for visuals.

E-ARC provided by publisher.