19 February 2018

Father Christmas's Fake Beard; Terry Pratchett

Father Christmas’s Fake BeardFather Christmas’s Fake Beard by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

And here was me, thinking there'd be no new Pratchett's... ok, this isn't "new" except I've never read any of the collected stories before. And of course it's classic Pratchett takes on older stories, or newer stories on the theme of Christmas written with the humor and twists he's known for. While written for younger children, adults will still enjoy reading these tales - and perhaps read them to younger readers, thus growing a new generation of fans.

Murder on the Left Bank; Cara Black

Murder on the Left Bank (An Aimée Leduc Investigation #18)Murder on the Left Bank by Cara Black
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's still very unclear to me why Aimee is stuck in the 90s, because the technology use could easily put her in this century! As mysteries go, the question of Jewish refugee money and old secrets being revealed isn't new or all that different; what does make this new(ish) is the addition of the Hand and how far they'd go to protect their secrets. Another puzzle is how all-too-frequently Aimee forgets her daughter! It feels almost forced, that she is so focused on her job that being a mother (and staying out of danger) is almost unimportant.

As with all the others in this series, I do want to take a tour of Paris through Aimee's eyes (although, see the above re: 1990s and the question of which restaurants and local shops exist today!).

ARC provided by publisher.

The Queen of Sorrow; Sarah Beth Durst

The Queen of Sorrow (The Queens of Renthia #3)The Queen of Sorrow by Sarah Beth Durst
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fitting ending to the series, but there could have been more - there are other lands that are finally mentioned and that we get a glimpse of and are left hanging. Interestingly, Merecot becomes more sympathetic while Naelin becomes less so. Daleina? Just static, as are the rest of the characters. That's unusual for books like this and one that made me wonder what the author's motivation was for that choice, particularly since this is the end of the trilogy.

I still love this world, with the giant trees and semi-medieval villages that live among them. And Ven's sister? She was a wonderful addition.

ARC provided by publisher.

A Map of the Dark; Karen Ellis

A Map of the Dark (The Searchers #1)A Map of the Dark by Karen Ellis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Stop with the multiple POVs! They really don't add anything to the story.

The missing child case that introduces us to Elsa Myers isn't anything new to people who read these types of mysteries, so the "new" needs to be FBI Agent Myers, right? Who she is, what drives her, etc. are all the things that will keep readers coming back. And yes, there's a deep dark secret (revealed at the end of the book) that drives Elsa and colors her life. The bigger question is, now that we know, will Elsa grow past it? Because the mystery of the missing child isn't going to be quite enough in this world of SVU and Criminal Minds.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Disturbed Girl's Dictionary; NoNieqa Ramos

The Disturbed Girl's DictionaryThe Disturbed Girl's Dictionary by NoNieqa Ramos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At first I wasn't sure how I felt about the structure of the book, but it very quickly felt right, that this was the best way for Macy to tell her story. Macy is a strong character (or maybe I mean "memorable" more than "strong"?) dealing with the problems in her life the best she can - the drugs, her mother, her brother's needs, her BFFs, school, being disregarded and diminished at school, and her father's incarceration. There were times when the situation felt stereotypical, but the voice always felt authentic and as though there were no other way to tell this life.

ARC provided by publisher.

My Name is Venus Black; Heather Lloyd

My Name Is Venus BlackMy Name Is Venus Black by Heather Lloyd
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I so wish we'd heard more from Leo, less from others! There are far too many POVs (again! sigh) here, and once again they all start to blend together.

Venus' crime isn't explained fully until the end, possibly so that we get some empathy for Inez (aka Mom) but that doesn't really work. While Inez' motivations are understandable, she's just not presented in any way as likable. Tinker? He was necessary to move the plot forward but then his complete disappearance made no sense. The rest was predictable and that's not a great thing for readers - something, anything surprising would have been a welcome change.

My other problem? This is set in the 1980s. There's no real reason for that except it makes it easier to not include cell phones and other modern technology. It's not quite historical enough to be an interesting era, not modern enough to speak to teens. The only way we know when it's set is because the author tells us: there are no historical events, no musical cues, etc. that give a sense of anything to do with that era or a reason for that setting.

ARC provided by publisher.

All We Can Do Is Wait; Richard Lawson

All We Can Do Is WaitAll We Can Do Is Wait by Richard Lawson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Too many POVs and far too predictable. The grief and fear that the characters are supposed to feel wasn't well described, and their voices were relatively similar. Given the importance suggested by the location (the Tobin Bridge in Boston) it was surprising that there wasn't more sense of the city and people.

Honor Among Thieves; Rachel Caine

Honor Among Thieves (The Honors, #1)Honor Among Thieves by Rachel Caine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really enjoyable start to the series: from dystopian New Detroit to life aboard Nadim, the worlds were clearly described. I rounded this up from 3.5 because those worlds were also incredibly familiar to anyone who has read YA dystopias or watched Farscape (really? a Leviathan? and including one named Moia?). The relationship between Zara and Beatrice is the one that feels the most real, two very different people who are forced to work and live together in incredibly weird circumstances. And then there's the question of why, exactly, the Leviantians have offered to help Earth. Not quite Soylent Green, as far as I can tell, but the question does arise. What happens next will determine (for me) how derivative this series will be. Not sure that the target audience will care, much as they haven't with other series that seem to rely heavily on others for ideas.

Having said that, the travel to other planets is pretty well done. Nadim's "deep sleep" and the alien who comes to the rescue is a great episode - how do you communicate with someone who is completely different from you, with no common language or signals? Will the next books explore that further? or will they rely on the more usual experiences in sci-fi?

ARC provided by publisher.

Summer Hours at the Robbers Library; Sue Halpern

Summer Hours at the Robbers LibrarySummer Hours at the Robbers Library by Sue Halpern
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Perfectly pleasant vacation read, with nothing particularly different or new. Following the lives of Sunny, Kit and Rusty as they create bonds with each other and the town didn't provide any surprises, which is what people usually want from a vacation read. That Riverton is a dying town is more interesting but isn't explored in any great depth; Rusty's job loss, Sunny's homeschooling and Kit's remaking her life could also have been given more depth but weren't.

ARC provided by publisher.

Artificial Condition; Martha Wells

Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries, #2)Artificial Condition by Martha Wells
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rounding up from 4.5 because this doesn't stand alone - if you haven't read All Systems Red (a 2018 Alex Award Top Ten), this won't make as much sense.

Murderbot has decided to go rogue and figure out what really happened during the gap in its memory. He - it's decided it's a 'he' - travels back to the scene of the supposed crime, thinking he can go it alone. Of course, he can't and it's only with ART's help that he not only manages the trip but also finds employment. Answers? Well... some. It's clear that we'll have to wait until the third book for more about what happened, who ordered it and how Murderbot will respond.

I'm loving this series and the challenges to our concepts of what is, and is not, artificial life. The idea that a Security Unit would just really want to bingewatch soaps is funny. ART's reaction to those soaps? Equally funny.

ARC provided by publisher.

People Like Us; Dana Mele

People Like UsPeople Like Us by Dana Mele
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Going away to school can been a great time to change who you are (or who you want people to think you are) and Kay (formerly Katie) has done just that. The problem is, of course, who she now chooses to be. That choice comes back to bite her in a big way - one that doesn't quite ring true. Most of the revenge plot was overblown, but there was also a serious lack of reflection or thought on Kay's part that could have saved her and her friends a lot of grief. The adults also seemed very unrealistic, particularly the housemothers and the Head of School (seriously? allowing the police to be on campus without some school-based liaison? not buying it).

Still, as far as boarding school books go, it's not bad.

ARC provided by publisher.

If I Die Tonight; Alison Gaylin

If I Die TonightIf I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lost points because it became clear early on that the WHO was going to be a surprise/twist. I won't say more than that... Until that big reveal, however, there's an interesting look at how social media can play into a local story, and how people appear on the outside isn't always what they're like on the inside (which, duh, but still...). The other problem is, as all too often happens with multiple POV books, that the voices tend to blend together. While you can tell who you're following by the people they interact with and the interior monologue, the way in which each character thinks tends to sound the same. I just wish that this trend would stop!

Knowing that area of New York, it did amuse me trying to figure out which place stood in for Haverkill. Not that it matters.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Cold Cold Ground; Adrian McKinty

The Cold Cold Ground (Detective Sean Duffy, #1)The Cold Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Belfast, 1980s - The Troubles, the hunger strikes, the sectarian violence. What a great time to be a killer, right? You can hide everything because the police will look elsewhere. And what a difficult time to be a Catholic policeman, because you're a traitor to your people. McKinty's depiction of that era and those tensions is really compelling, reminding those who heard about what was going on that this wasn't just a story in the news but something that still (today) has resonance with Belfast's residents.

As far as the mystery part goes, it was relatively meh. Good misdirection, but otherwise meh. There's promise for the rest of the series, and I look forward to diving in.

04 February 2018

The House of Impossible Beauties; Joseph Cassara

The House of Impossible Beauties: A NovelThe House of Impossible Beauties: A Novel by Joseph Cassara
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I was just out of college, newly arrived in New York City, I worked for an off-Broadway theatre company. Many of the people described in this book, their lives, their fears about AIDS, the Houses reminded me of people I'd known or worked with and places I'd been in those early years. The author has captured the feel of that era so well. This wasn't my world yet reading this book, I felt so close to Angel and Venus. Hector reminded me of people I knew who were also dying of this disease (and of those who, I suspect, did die later - one boss in particular who engaged in what I knew was risky behavior but, well... he never seemed to stop). To the author's credit, this was no tearjerker, deliberately playing with readers' emotions.

Anyone reading this who hasn't already seen Paris Is Burning needs to do so, immediately.

ARC provided by publisher.