30 April 2018

Then She Was Gone; Lisa Jewell

Then She Was GoneThen She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fairly predictable mystery/suspense about What Happened to Ellie, who disappeared ten years ago. Of course, Paul and Laurel's marriage has dissolved, and of course Laurel is stuck in that moment. Then some of Ellie's bones and belongings are found... and Laurel can move forward. But is Floyd really who (or what) she wants? The problem is, if you like these types of books, you know where this is going. And it does, with only one surprise. And if you like these types of books, you'll enjoy it as much as any other in this genre.

eARC provided by publisher.

Float; Laura Martin

FloatFloat by Laura Martin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A perfect read for Middle School Boys set in a camp for people with different abilities. In this case, Emerson literally floats, tethered to earth by heavy shoes and a vest (and tied into his bed at night). He quickly makes friends with his bunkmates, each of whom isn't quite normal (one can set things on fire, one time-travels, and one could be called the sometimes invisible boy). They have the same experiences many campers have, with bonfires and hiking, pranks and KP duty, and trying to meet the girl campers. And yet... those abilities...

ARC provided by publisher.

Blackfish City; Sam. J. Miller

Blackfish CityBlackfish City by Sam J. Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great dystopian fiction about a floating world, populated with refugees from all over and ruled by a combination of landlords and the equivalent of mob bosses, with an overlay of AI tech. While there are a few too many POVs for my taste, each voice is from a different enough sector of this society that it's not that irritating. Readers of Pullman may think that the polar bear is borrowed from him, but I think it's more a reflection of the climate change that flooded most of the known world. Even that - the climate change - is muted in service of the story about the characters and their lives, how they intertwine and move forward (there's a lovely revenge plot I'll dangle but not spoil).

eARC provided by publisher.

84K; Claire North

84K84K by Claire North
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

At some point in the future, everything begins to belong to The Company. And The Company is nothing if not efficient - even crime has been monetized, so that every crime has a "dollar" amount (because this is Britain, it's really a pound amount) attached. "Theo", who really isn't Theo, but we never learn his birth name, works in an office that determines how much those crimes will cost the perpetrator, knowing that his very life is something of a crime. Then he gets mixed up in another crime and his relatively innocuous life changes as he leaves London for... he's not exactly sure where.

Told in alternating timelines and from the POV of Theo and Neila (a boat-dweller traveling the Grand Union Canal), there are moments when readers will be a little confused about who and when. Theo is really a blank slate, reacting to events more than anything. And those events? At times the action feels like more plotting would have been helpful, that things are a little too rushed to be plausible.

ARC provided by publisher.

Give Me Some Truth; Eric Gansworth

Give Me Some TruthGive Me Some Truth by Eric Gansworth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Life on the Rez isn't easy, but neither is life in the city. Set in 1980s upstate New York, on the Tuscarora reservation and nearby cities, this isn't a sequel to If I Ever Get Out of Here but is set in the same world, with many of the same characters. The blend of reservation life and life outside is skillful, and there's nothing about the lives of Carson, Maggi, Lewis and their families and friends that won't be both familiar and real for readers. The "real world" intrudes in the form of a racist diner, racist coworkers and John Lennon's death - and there's a squicky couple of relationships. For readers looking for another view of Indian life, this (and the previous book) are must reads.

ARC provided by publisher.

Valley Girls; Sarah Nicole Lemon

Valley GirlsValley Girls by Sarah Nicole Lemon
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Yosemite Valley, not LA Valley... and there was nothing there to make me care about what happened.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Glass Room; Ann Cleeves

The Glass Room (Vera Stanhope, #5)The Glass Room by Ann Cleeves
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another series I'm reading out of order, and it doesn't seem to matter that much. Vera's self-awareness varies from book to book, and in this case within the book - there are times she knows the effect she has on Joe and Holly, and others when she seems not to. As far as the mystery goes, it's one of those where it's nearly impossible for the reader to solve because the detective has knowledge they're not sharing with us. The setting felt very familiar, but I couldn't find an adaptation of this in the tv series so my guess is that this is one of those Standard British Mystery Settings.

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl; Stacy McAnulty

The Miscalculations of Lightning GirlThe Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Getting hit by lightning isn't exactly a lucky event, but in Lucy's case it changed her from being an average young girl into a true genius, finishing high school by the time she should be in seventh grade. On the other hand, there's the OCD she has, which is fine al=s long as she doesn't go outside. Suddenly her grandmother decides Lucy needs to go to regular school and enrolls her at the local public school... where Lucy's differences really stand out.

The plot is pretty standard, with Lucy finding friends and herself, etc.. But the way in which the author makes Lucy's differences seem normal elevate this from the standard - check out the author's notes - and may make middle school readers understand how even small acts can have large impacts on the world around them.

ARC provided by publisher.

16 April 2018

Ace of Shades; Amanda Foody

Ace of Shades (The Shadow Game #1)Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

DNF at 25% - fake swearing, so-so worldbuilding, too many "missy" references and too little reason to care about any of the characters.

ARC provided by publisher.

Picture Us in the Light; Kelly Loy Gilbert

Picture Us in the LightPicture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This had promise, but also too much going on. There's the plot-line about Danny's sister and how she died, the plot-line about why Danny's parents just picked up and left Texas (and what they're hiding), the plot-line about Sandra, and then the plot-line about Danny's feelings about Harry. Of course there's intersection, but the problem is more that focusing on one or two would have made for a stronger book. As it is, all feel as though they're each being given short shrift and no character is fully fleshed out. The pacing is also a problem, with the first almost-half being slow and filled with back-story.

ARC provided by publisher.

14 April 2018

Circe; Madeline Miller

CirceCirce by Madeline Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you loved The Song of Achilles you'll love Circe. Miller's take on the myth is one that makes an immortal child of Helios all too human as Circe makes many, many mistakes throughout her very long life.

It's those mistakes - underestimating people, rushing into action where a little pre-planning/preparing could have saved a lot of trouble, or underthinking the consequences of something - that give this version of Circe's life so much depth. Centuries go by and she seems to not have learned. The passage of time is also done well, with the heroes of the ages, from Jason to Daedalus to Odysseus all appearing in what feels to readers as a compressed time frame, much as it must feel to an immortal.

It may just have been me, but there was a slight whiff of The Mists of Time here; sometimes I'd wished there was more of that in the book, but on reflection it was just enough.

ARC provided by publisher.

A Lady's Guide to Selling Out; Sally Franson

A Lady's Guide to Selling OutA Lady's Guide to Selling Out by Sally Franson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This started out with the perfect amount of lighthearted semi-snark, but quickly lost that and became more about an out-of-control life starring a rather unlikable main character. Casey just seems to be completely blank and not terribly interesting, when with a few slight changes, she could have been a character readers root for and feel for. The life she thought she'd be leading isn't the life she is leading - less doing something with her English degree or being on tv and more trying to persuade others to do something slightly distasteful (no spoilers). Then things go terribly wrong, with not one but two incidents of what I can only call "ripped from the headlines" incidents and her life goes completely downhill. Yet none of that inspired me to feel sorry for her or hope things would work out (and some things, like her relationship with her mother, never do get resolved).

It was also interesting that at times the author played coy with brands and popular culture (the "curly haired girl staring at the New York skyline" poster from a tv series, for example) and then Real Housewives is not only namechecked but give a pivotal role.

Still, as vacation brain candy goes, you could do worse.

ARC provided by publisher.

08 April 2018

Reclaiming Shilo Snow; Mary Weber

Reclaiming Shilo Snow (The Evaporation of Sofi Snow #2)Reclaiming Shilo Snow by Mary Weber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Haven't read the first book? Don't worry - this very nearly could work as a stand-alone. There's not as much world building here (possibly it's in the first book), and the characters are pretty static but it's the action that is important. Who exactly are the Delonese? What is happening on their moon-spaceship? Can Sofi rescue (or reclaim) her brother Shilo? And what about those Corp CEOs? Not all of them will be answered, but that's ok. And no, apparently there won't be a third book answering those questions.

My biggest quibble is that as an adult, the idea of aliens coming to help save the people of Earth usually leads me to think of the Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man", among other "don't trust their motives" episodes and movies and books. (Note: that's not a spoiler, because this is covered in Book One, continuing in Book Two.) Doing something different would have been nice.

ARC provided by publisher.

Paris by the Book; Liam Callanan

Paris by the BookParis by the Book by Liam Callanan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If only the title and the blurbage hadn't led me to believe that there'd be so much more about Paris!

The premise is simple: a husband disappears, the left-behind wife and daughters wait and then travel to Paris (based on a clue left by him) to search for him. It doesn't quite go that easily for them, but the life they make for themselves in Paris helps them get used to the idea that they can survive without him (although they keep searching).

What's missing is a real sense of Paris, even if it's through the eyes of an abandoned American wife. Leah's obsession with "The Red Balloon", or Robert's (and their daughter's) obsession with Madeline could also have been a lens through which to view Paris. Or their search for Robert. Instead, this is more of an emotional book; having said that, we don't really get a sense of Leah's emotions being really intense, even when she's alone. Everything here is muted when it could have been more varied, and please - more Paris!

ARC provided by publisher.

Unbury Carol; Josh Malerman

Unbury CarolUnbury Carol by Josh Malerman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Carol, despite being the title character, is something of a cypher - we hear her thoughts, but mostly she's in a state that is something deeper than a coma. It's her husband (who plans to bury her alive), her ex-boyfriend (who knows about her condition and that she's not really dead) and the man her husband sends to kill the ex whose lives and actions we follow over the course of three days. None of this takes place in our world, instead we're in a country (or area of a country) called the Trail, which feels very much like the Old West only more isolated and hemmed in by forest, wild vegetation and animals.

The characters and world were sufficiently interesting to keep me reading, but the plot? Nothing new, nothing different from the standard "husband resents wife's wealth, so decides to murder her" plot.

ARC provided by publisher.

Winterfolk; Janel Kolby

WinterfolkWinterfolk by Janel Kolby
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Somewhat difficult read as this reminds us that the homeless are all around us, and that not all of them fit into that neat "oh, they're mentally disturbed or drug addicts" category. Rain's life among the Winterfolk isn't what many of us would consider comfortable, but for her it's normal - until the city decides to destroy the encampment. And thus begins the real story: how does an outsider, used to a very different life and ill-equipped to navigate ours, begin to build a new life? What skills do they need, and how do they acquire them?

Despite the promise, there were times when this was overwritten. In this case, less would have been more, leading to a greater emotional impact for readers.

ARC provided by publisher.

05 April 2018

The Radical Element; Jessica Spotswood ed.

The Radical Element (A Tyranny of Petticoats, #2)The Radical Element by Jessica Spotswood
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I so wish that anthologies were an easier sell to students. Not sure why a short story by a fave author doesn't appeal in the same way a full book does, particularly as it might lead to a new fave. Oh well.

As stories go, this is pretty standard in terms of each author playing to their strengths and not really providing any surprises. Each author takes on the story of some girl (plucky, unconventional, etc.) living during a historical era in American history. Some stories work better than others, and I always worry that historical fiction written this way will bring the author's concerns and beliefs into the narrative (see, "You're A Stranger Here" as an example) but beyond that, enjoyable.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Feed; Nick Clark Windo

The FeedThe Feed by Nick Clark Windo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Four stars until the very end, which was really (to me) disappointing.

There's the Feed, an all immersive version of Augmented Reality mixed with social media, and one day it goes down. Life as we know it is disrupted, because thanks to the Feed, people can't figure out how to survive without it. A few years later, things are even worse; and, somehow, there are aliens among us. Tom and Kate are among the survivors, hiding out (Tom hiding even more because his family created the Feed, which he rebelled against) and trying to survive. It doesn't go better from there.... or does it? The twist at the end was confusing and rushed, not to mention feels forced in that "oh, I need a twist" way. But until then? Great read.

ARC provided by publisher.

In the Morning I'll Be Gone; Adrian McKinty

In the Morning I'll be Gone (Sean Duffy #3)In the Morning I'll be Gone by Adrian McKinty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The world Duffy inhabits is usually violent, what with it being 1980s Belfast and Duffy being a Catholic RUC member. But this book? I totally bought that MI5, MI6 and others might want him to play on his childhood relationship with an IRA member, but the ending, at the Brighton conference where the IRA tried to blow up Thatcher? Well... that was just a tiny bit too much for me. But other than that, great entry into the series and a wonderful example of the locked room mystery.

The Price Guide to the Occult; Leslye Walton

The Price Guide to the OccultThe Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lots of promise but it ended up being rather predictable. Still, this could be a great vacation read!

The opening leads readers to think this might be a Practical Magic-esque type book, an island that has many 'normal' people but also a family of witches, with power handed down generation to generation. It's one of those touristy islands, with quirky shops that attract off-islanders. Nor is one of the witches, working at an occult shop, when her long-gone mother publishes a book (the title of this one). And that's where "charming" ends. No spoilers, but clearly the author is a fan of Stephen King's earlier work.

ARC provided by publisher.

04 April 2018

The Unflushables; Ron Bates

The UnflushablesThe Unflushables by Ron Bates
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Perfect MG read starring, believe it or not, plumbers. Lots of gross bathroom humor, adventure and overcoming Evil People.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Crooked Castle; Sarah Jean Horwitz

The Crooked Castle (Carmer and Grit #2)The Crooked Castle by Sarah Jean Horwitz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you haven't read the first in this series, you should still be able to understand and appreciate this second entry.

The setting here is a port town, one where hot air ships arrive and take off from abroad. Carmer and Grit are heading there when they meet up with a astronaut heading to Rinka Tinka's Wonder Show (ok, Grit causes his balloon to... well... crash). Once there, Carmer is asked to investigate the supposed sabotage of several ships and systems. That investigation will spread from the human world of Carmer to Grit's fairy world, with predictable results.

I love the steampunk/fairy combination, and Grit is not your average fairy princess. Can't wait for book three!

ARC provided by publisher.

Future Lost; Elizabeth Briggs

Future LostFuture Lost by Elizabeth Briggs
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The book failed the "can you get away without reading the first book?" test. Had I read it, I might have cared about the characters but as it was... DNF. Plus, the multiple timelines part? Just didn't make sense.

ARC provided by publisher

03 April 2018

And She Was; Jessica Verdi

And She WasAnd She Was by Jessica Verdi
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Oh, I had such hopes for this book! Dara's life with her single mother, Mellie, is upended when Dara learns that Mellie was born male and transitioned (as well as fled, with infant Dara, from his/her in-laws, having left his family years before). Dara is, understandably, confused and interested in meeting her extended family... so she and BFF/boy-almost-next-door Sam head off to find her maternal grandparents.

So what went wrong? Mellie's story is told via email, which means far too much telling and far too little showing. The Dara/Sam relationship is so predictable it almost hurts. Also predictable? The conservative, anti-LGBTQ grandparents. And that Dara's new-found aunt is using her parent's Charleston home as an animal rescue operation (in other words, these conservative people do have a really good side! they're not all bad!) is just kitchen sinking. Had any one of those elements been different, this might have been stronger. Take away another element, stronger still.

ARC provided by publisher.

Bluff; Michael Kardos

BluffBluff by Michael Kardos
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Crosses, double-crosses and magic - all wrapped up into a nice, semi-tidy bow. Natalie's life is less than she'd thought it would be, all because as a young woman she made a very big mistake. Now desperate to get money to survive and pay for another mistake (who knew that playing cards could be so dangerous) she gets involved with a caper that could go very well, or very badly. Guess which happens? And once you figure out that this is all about double-crosses, the twist at the end is less impressive.

ARC provided by publisher.

White Rabbit; Caleb Roehrig

White RabbitWhite Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you're of a certain age, this can only bring up Jefferson Airplane as your earworm du jour... Sadly the book doesn't really capitalize on that (although there are drugs involved!). Instead we get an improbable one-night-in-the-life adventure for exes Sebastian and Rufus, trying to determine if Rufus's half-sister did kill Fox or if someone else did. The fact that Rufus is one of those untouchables in the town and that the people needing to be queried are the popular crowd (who, duh, bullied Rufus) won't make things easier. There are a great number of gaps here, and the mystery of Who Killed Fox is not just implausible but also feels like the author rolled dice to figure out the next part each time it came along. More careful plotting would have helped.

ARC provided by publisher.

HIding; Henry Turner

HidingHiding by Henry Turner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Who is this boy who can hide in plain sight? How did he really get into Laura's house, and was it really just because he could? There's something off about this, and astute readers will figure out the twist early on. But still, the story is charming and Laura's family (and their secrets) interesting enough.

ARC provided by publisher.

02 April 2018

All Out of Pretty; Ingrid Palmer

All Out of PrettyAll Out of Pretty by Ingrid Palmer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This suffered from comparison to Cold Hard Truth, which might have been unfair but... timing. This is less about fitting back in to an old "normal" life and more about finding a normal life when the old one has been ripped away. A far grittier book, this is what could have happened to Emmie had she not had a father to run to.

ARC provided by publisher.

Class Action; Steven B. Frank

Class ActionClass Action by Steven B. Frank
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Completely implausible, but will give readers a decent idea about how class action lawsuits and the justice system work.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Fall of Grace; Amy Fellner Dominy

The Fall of GraceThe Fall of Grace by Amy Fellner Dominy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pretty standard story about a young girl, living a privileged life, who discovers that her mother's success might just be... illegally obtained. Of course, Grace is convinced there's been a mistake (the FBI and courts, less so) and since Mom's in a coma, only Grace can prove the truth. And then there's Sam, the boy who is insisting on following Grace as she tries to find out what the truth is - and we all know how this will go. Nothing surprising, nothing new, but Grace and Sam will appeal to readers.

ARC provided by publisher.

Sam & Ilsa's Last Hurrah; Rachel Cohn

Sam & Ilsa's Last HurrahSam & Ilsa's Last Hurrah by Rachel Cohn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My first impression was that this was Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf for the Gossip Girl crowd - disappointing for fans of Cohn/Levitan collaborations. There's very little here that's unsurprising, either in terms of what happens or in terms of the people depicted. All emotional moments are telegraphed, and it's pretty obvious that the Deep Dark Secrets are, well, not. Which can be ok for target readers: they're not looking for Sam or Ilsa to surprise them. They're fine with KK being a bitch, and with Parker, Jason, etc. The addition of a sock puppet to the mix? Perhaps not so fine (although knowing how this was written, I appreciate how the other author embraced the addition and really tried to make the sock puppet a real character! That alone was worth a star.) And the epilogue? Not needed. Ultimately, this might be a hard sell, even for fans of these writers.

ARC provided by publisher.

01 April 2018

Boston: America's Best Sports Town; Sean McAdam

Boston: America's Best Sports TownBoston: America's Best Sports Town by Sean McAdam
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you're not from Boston, you won't enjoy this. I am, so...

ARC provided by publisher.

Cold Hard Truth; Anne Greenwood Brown

Cold Hard TruthCold Hard Truth by Anne Greenwood Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Children of divorce often feel torn between both parents, sometimes having to choose which parent to go with. Emmie has just returned to her father's house after a disastrous year living with her mother and she's now trying to fit back in with her old friends and her old life. But the disaster that was life with her drug-addicted mother keeps intruding... Unfortunately the promise in that description devolves into predictable actions and characterizations, particularly Max. Sigh.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Beloved Wild; Melissa Ostrom

The Beloved WildThe Beloved Wild by Melissa Ostrom
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Historical fiction is always a difficult sell to students, and this slice of life in New Hampshire/Western New York State is slow, deliberate and predictable, which may mean it's even less likely to get picked up. Having said that, the atmosphere and setting are wonderfully done - if readers can stick with it, they'll be rewarded. The comparisons to Pride and Prejudice aren't deserved, btw, but the idea that a first impression or opinion can be incorrect is woven throughout.

ARC provided by publisher.

Along the Indigo; Elsie Chapman

Along the IndigoAlong the Indigo by Elsie Chapman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sadly, one-note characters and a predictable plot meant this book wasn't as wonderful as it could have been. There was promise in the setting - a town in a bend in the river, with a haunted plot where people commit suicide - but somehow it just never blooms the way it could. Marsden's life held no surprises, nor did her friendship with Jude or their discovering what Jude's brother buried in the "covert" (shades of Billie Joe McAllister?). Sigh. More atmosphere and fewer surprises would have worked far better.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Reluctant Fortune-Teller; Keziah Frost

The Reluctant Fortune-TellerThe Reluctant Fortune-Teller by Keziah Frost
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This reminded me so often of Bensen's Mapp & Lucia books, with Carlotta as Lucia (the French episode) and Norbert as Mapp, at first grateful to Carlotta's interest and help and then outgrowing her tutelage. But this is more than that, this is also about old age and loneliness, and about being needed no matter what age you are. Finding friends, finding happiness and finding a purpose in life - all told in a quiet slice-of-life novel. Nothing better for spring.

ARC provided by publisher.

After the Shot Drops; Randy Ribay

After the Shot DropsAfter the Shot Drops by Randy Ribay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Going to a private school can lead to a disruption on friendships no matter the reason for changing schools, but in this case it's not just the idea that Bunny has going to the "rich" school that upsets Nasir, it's also that he's left their basketball team for a better funded one, which will kill any chances they have of winning any game. It's the loss of both that upsets him. For Bonny, it's the opportunity to possibly get seen by scouts and into a good school, but life at the school isn't easy and he does miss Nas' friendship.

This is less a book about basketball than it is about friendship and what one friend will do for another, even when it appears that the friendship isn't going to survive a change (like transferring to another school). Neither Bunny nor Nas are one note characters, they feel very real and complicated. What's equally wonderful is that the girls are just as real, just as complicated.

ARC provided by publisher.

Gun Street Girl; Adrian McKinty

Gun Street Girl (Detective Sean Duffy #4)Gun Street Girl by Adrian McKinty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Annnd... Duffy's back. He's been shot, beaten up, demoted and generally abused but he's back. This time he's investigating the murder of a couple, which leads to the suicide of their son. Yeah, Duffy's not buying that either. There are hints of Oxford's Bullingdon Club, American support for the IRA, the Iran-Contra Affair and, of course, over it all, Ireland's Troubles. For some reason, this didn't impress me as much as the previous Duffy books did, but I can't wait for the third series (books 5 and 6 in this one were published during my Alex years. no comment beyond that.)