31 July 2018

You Don't Know Everything; Jilly P; Alex Gino

You Don't Know Everything, Jilly P!You Don't Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jilly P's education includes both Deaf culture and white privilege, not to mention being a big sister and trying to interpret initialisms like Y.Y.A. (Yes You Are). The last two are more humorous interludes between the first two. The Deaf subject arises because Jilly's new little sister is born deaf, and how her parents (and the doctors) deal with that - to sign or not, and when signing is ok (like waving vs. name signs), and what about cochlear implants - will be questions most readers have never considered. The white privilege parts are done well, given the age group, but I wonder if the combination of both isn't a little much.

ARC provided by publisher.

Small Spaces; Katherine Arden

Small SpacesSmall Spaces by Katherine Arden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Good, creepy book (perfect to share with my students around Hallowe'en!). I just wish it had been a little longer...

ARC provided by publisher.

The Good Demon; Jimmy Cajoleas

The Good DemonThe Good Demon by Jimmy Cajoleas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Is there such a thing as a good demon? Clare certainly thinks She is one, and the day She is banished (ok, exorcized) from Clare is the worst of Clare's life. Her search for a way to get this missing part back leads her through some incredibly weird pockets of her small Southern town (once known as a tourist spot and now, not so much) and pairs her with the son of the preacher who did the banishing. What will she give up or do to get Her back? The answer might surprise you.

Points lost for some obvious twists, including the drunken, mean stepfather.

ARC provided by publisher.

30 July 2018

2 Fuzzy, 2 Furious

2 Fuzzy, 2 Furious (The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, #2)2 Fuzzy, 2 Furious by Shannon Hale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Squirrel Girl relies on a hoodie and big pants to hide her SuperHeroness from her classmates and somehow, like Clark Kent and those glasses, the disguise works. Her adventures with her BHFF and BSFF (Best Human and Best Squirrel Friends Forever), the Squirrel Squad and with the help of S.H.I.E.L.D. will be enjoyed by middle grade readers (not to mention introducing them to the wider S.H.I.E.L.D. universe - funny how being published by the owner of that franchise works).

The Mighty Chewbacca in the Forest of Fear; Tom Angleberger

Star Wars The Mighty Chewbacca in the Forest of FearStar Wars The Mighty Chewbacca in the Forest of Fear by Tom Angleberger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cute book about Chewie and tooka cats, especially for early readers.

Good Luck with That; Kristan Higgins

Good Luck with ThatGood Luck with That by Kristan Higgins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Decent beach read with body positivity at the forefront. It was good that they each approached their weight issues in a different way, highlighting many of the ways people who are not size <8 deal with the public, clothes and life.

ARC provided by publisher.

Are You Scared, Darth Vader? Adam Rex

Star Wars: Are You Scared, Darth Vader?Star Wars: Are You Scared, Darth Vader? by Adam Rex
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So cute! I love picture books that break the barrier between reader and story - this one does it so well.

Under the Dark Sky; Lori Rader-Day

Under a Dark SkyUnder a Dark Sky by Lori Rader-Day
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this far more than Little Pretty Things but wasn't thrilled with any of the characters. including Eden, who acts as our window into this world and the detective. It may have been her nosiness, or her passiveness, or... whatever it was, I didn't care. The relationships between her and everyone except Cooley felt forced, even at the "happy" ending.

ARC provided by publisher.

24 July 2018

A River of Stars; Vanessa Hua

A River of StarsA River of Stars by Vanessa Hua
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I heard (at ALA) about these places in the US, where wealthy Chinese could come and give birth so their children would have American citizenship. Perfume Bay is one of those places, but it's a little less than what the brochures promise. And Scarlett and Daisy are a little less than the usual "client", being unmarried (and poor - Scarlett - or young - Daisy). Their unlikely friendship after they manage to escape, the life they manage to eke out and the challenges and fears they face is both inspiring and horrific to anyone unaware that this is, in fact, what can happen here in America. Luckily, there's a happy ending! And Mama Fang is a great character, worthy of her own book.

ARC provided by publisher.

Checked; Cynthia Kadohata

CheckedChecked by Cynthia Kadohata
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this book about a young boy's passion for hockey (and his dog). At times it was difficult to remember that Conor was only 12(!) given his maturity about his life, the discipline needed to excel at the sport he loves, and his love for Sinbad. Much like Open Ice, Conor has to question what life would be like without hockey, since paying for Sinbad's cancer treatments means less money for his private hockey lessons and training; unlike that earlier book, this is a book I can happily share with my students. Even better, all the characters, even the minor ones, are fleshed out to some extent, sometimes in surprising ways.

That's Not What Happened; Kody Keplinger

That's Not What HappenedThat's Not What Happened by Kody Keplinger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

School shootings are an all-too-frequent occurrence, as are the stories about the victims and survivors and their heroic/admirable/spiritual lives. This story about how something misheard, and attempts to correct the record, can go very wrong.

My mind went to some of the things that I've heard about some of the people who have died or saved lives and, well, occasionally I've wondered if we're seeing the real person. That's not to say that anyone is lying about their friend/family member, but in death, sometimes, people ignore or hide the bad or questionable.

Anyway, this could provoke some interesting conversations with students about the events and what they'd do.

ARC provided by publisher.

Pieces of Her; Karin Slaughter

Pieces of HerPieces of Her by Karin Slaughter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Meet Laura Oliver, mild mannered speech therapist. Meet her daughter Andy, a little lost and unmotivated. What could go wrong in their lives? Well... as it turns out, quite a bit. A shooting in a diner turns Laura into something of a heroine and suspect, and then there's a strange man in Laura's home threatening her. Andy's search for who her mother actually is (or was) and why these things are happening is, of course, not completely believable but it's certainly engrossing and a great summer thriller.

ARC provided by publisher.

Putney; Sofka Zinovieff

PutneyPutney by Sofka Zinovieff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well done, but... well... ewwwwww.

Daphne's relationship with Ralph is very Lolita/Humbert, and all the discussion about her artistic and politically passionate parents, her unsupervised childhood and seeming blindness of everyone (except her friend Jane and his wife Nina) to notice how inappropriate this was doesn't make it less squicky. Jane's agenda is hidden until closer to the end of the book, but it's always clear that jealousy is at the heart of things. Nina's willingness to ignore what's been going on is less explicable. The best part is how Daphne's memories of their relationship change over time (although that ending? not completely buying it).

Read with care. In today's climate, this may trigger readers.

ARC provided by publisher.

Open Mic Night in Moscow; Audrey Murray

Open Mic Night in MoscowOpen Mic Night in Moscow by Audrey Murray
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Clearly I wasn't her audience: the humor fell flat. I skimmed for her descriptions of Russia and the former USSR, but beyond that... YMMV.

ARC provided by publisher.

Path to the Stars; Sylvia Acevedo

Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket ScientistPath to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist by Sylvia Acevedo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Inspirational memoir for STEM students, but nothing special.

ARC provided by publisher

The Secrets Between Us; Thrity Umrigar

The Secrets Between UsThe Secrets Between Us by Thrity Umrigar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've loved Ms Umrigar's works since The Weight of Heaven and here, again, she gives us a story of India that resonates and (at times) brings tears to our eyes.

The pitiful lives that Pavarti and Bhima have managed to eke out are elevated from "pitiful" to "inspiring" by their refusal to bow down before their misfortune. In the modern, gentrifying city that is Mumbai, that people are forced to sleep in building hallways and rent beds in brothels is shocking, but to Pavarti, that's part of the lack of luck that's been her life. Bhima's firing by the Parsi family, whom she's served faithfully for decades, feels capricious and yet inevitable given the secrets she's privy to. That these two women eventually become business partners, even friends, is improbable and based on coincidence.

More surprising, given these women's lives, is that Bhima's granddaughter manages to navigate a very different version of India, one with less of a caste system, opportunities for women and no fear of the "taint" of lesbians being your friend. Maya's life gives Bhima hope for the future and occasional shame at her own inability to overcome her lifelong fears and sense of where she fits in to the world.

The ending was a little too tugging on the heartstrings and implausible, but I'm forgiving that part. Especially if, at some point, we return to at least one of these characters.

ARC provided by publisher.

16 July 2018

Murdertrending; Gretchen McNeil

#Murdertrending#Murdertrending by Gretchen McNeil
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Do not read if you don't like gory murders!

Ok, now that warning is out of the way... wow. This is one of those "this couldn't really happen, right?" books - the idea of Alcatraz 2.0, the app and live feeds, the Postman, etc. all are so over the tip but... maybe... perhaps... it could really happen here. After all, we're in the land of Big Brother (the tv show, not the Orwellian idea, although perhaps that's not so far off) and we have a reality star for a President. This lost points for one (really two) obviously glaring plot holes. But anyone needing an thriller/murder adrenaline rush will appreciate this despite that.

eARC provided by publisher.

Storm-Wake; Lucy Christopher

Storm-WakeStorm-Wake by Lucy Christopher
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

DNF - did nothing new to the Tempest story.

ARC provided by publisher.

Sanctuary; Caryn Lix

SanctuarySanctuary by Caryn Lix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Clearly the start of a series (or at least a duology).

While much of this was nothing new (prison for "anomalies" is a space station of sorts, dystopian world with corporate vs. national citizenship, etc.) and the characters pretty static, this was still enjoyable. I particularly liked that the aliens (not really a spoiler - you know there have to be aliens, right?) weren't humanoid.

ARC provided by publisher.

All These Beautiful Strangers; Elizabeth Klehfoth

All These Beautiful StrangersAll These Beautiful Strangers by Elizabeth Klehfoth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This would have been a much faster read had I not spent so much time trying to figure out which prep school this was (I think it's actually a combination of three).

As far as plots go, this is pretty standard teen stuff, standard, that is, if you belong to a certain group of students attending certain schools. There's a lot of "where are the adults" here, as most schools I know are (now, not back when I was a student in the 70s) paying closer attention to students' goings and comings. The semi-ripped from the headlines subplots were the best ones.

eARC provided by publisher.

Contagion; Erin Bowman

Contagion (Contagion, #1)Contagion by Erin Bowman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Decent space thriller - this time with zombies (or something like that, there doesn't seem to be a lot of "must eat brains" involved). Moments when things could have been quieter, less thrill-filled are few and far between, and that doesn't help. Ratcheting up the tension only works if there's some relief.

eARC provided by publisher.

The Only Story; Julian Barnes

The Only StoryThe Only Story by Julian Barnes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've always loved Barnes' work and now? Adding Max Verstappen's 2016 Brazilian GP drive? It's a great example of (as Paul says) the lack of risk limiters.

So, why am I rounding up from 4.5 stars? I'm not really sure. Getting the story of Paul's love for, and relationship with, Susan felt a little flat. Maybe it was because it was told from such a distance? or that we moved from the first person to third person as we move from the first flush of love through today? Or maybe it was because Susan's story felt a little forced? Why she leaves her husband and what happens after wasn't that new.

Still, 4.5 isn't bad, right?

Games of Secrets; Kim Foster

Game of SecretsGame of Secrets by Kim Foster
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Dickensian-era London, people with special talents, warring factions between those people, and a young woman taken from her usual life of flower selling (luckily not named Eliza) to learn airs and graces and special tricks. We've read this before, right? And sadly, this series does nothing new in the genre.

eARC provided by publisher.

Folded Notes from High School; Matthew Boren

Folded Notes from High SchoolFolded Notes from High School by Matthew Boren
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Rounding up from 1.5 stars because why not.

Seriously, this was a wicked mess - from the author's note saying that folded notes were from the 80s/90s (uh, try long before that, including my 70s JHS/HS years) through the need to drop in cultural references so we'd know it was set in 91/92 to the fact that none of the voices felt like different characters. I remember notes in school and these felt almost as though everyone went to a different school! So few of them referenced a conversation they'd had in person, and even then it was more like "ok, we talked/met and here's what was said".

Sigh.

What Should be Wild; Julia Fine

What Should Be WildWhat Should Be Wild by Julia Fine
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The premise is great: a line of women, "cursed" in some way, who have an affinity or something with the forest near their town. Maisie is one of those women, and her "curse" is that if she touches something living, she'll either kill it or bring it back to life; her father keeps her away from everyone so that they never learn about this curse (or to protect her from others). Her life after her father disappears changes and she must go out in public... and therein lies danger. Can Maisie find safety? happiness?

This is one of those books that is so up my alley and yet all the diversions to tell the story of the other women in the forest lessened the impact. There were other ways to tell those stories that would have been more affective and less distracting. And then the possible love triangle? Another "could have been handled differently" moment.

eARC provided by publisher.

09 July 2018

Grace and Fury; Tracy Banghart

Grace and FuryGrace and Fury by Tracy Banghart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The blurb said "for fans of The Selection and Caraval" but it's more The Selection and Fight Club/Lord of the Flies/Beauty Queens/Hunger Games... and the mash-up is, in many ways, entirely predictable. Who the traitor really is won't surprise anyone, and I'm pretty sure I can guess/predict what will happen in Book Two.

That doesn't mean there isn't some good here: not every character is a stereotype. The world is somewhat thinly built, but perhaps we'll get more in the next volume? Teens will enjoy this no matter what because the girls/women are strong and the violence is unusual for this type of book.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Woman in the Woods; John Connolly

The Woman in the WoodsThe Woman in the Woods by John Connolly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was my first book in the series (yes, I'm a late starter!) but I'm looking forward to more. And despite what several reviews say, you don't need to have read previous books, at least not in the same way it's helpful to have read David Mitchell's previous books to understand some of his world.

There is a real mystery here but, well, it quickly devolves into a more paranormal/thriller type book: the whodunnit/whydunnit part almost vanishes. My guess is that this is how other books in the series start. Some of the characters are original, like Billy Ocean, while others felt more like stock types, like Moxie Casten. That this is set in Maine (mostly) makes it fun - I could easily go to Portland and try to trace the various sites (as one can in Rebus' Edinburgh or Morse's Oxford).

If only I'd read this on a greyer, cloudier, rainier day.

eARC provided by publisher.

06 July 2018

Snap; Belinda Bauer

SnapSnap by Belinda Bauer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Goldilocks burglar? Yes, please. That the thefts are part of a larger story didn't matter, but points lost for the multiPOV writing.

What happened to Jack and his siblings after their mother's disappearance and father's leaving seems to have escaped everyone's notice. That no one sees that these three children are on their own is really due to Jack's diligence about keeping up appearances (and some of the efforts are pretty funny). The mystery part, led by fairly stock policemen, is just unpredictable enough to elevate this from the usual mystery/thrillers and makes this a fun summer read.

eARC provided by publisher.

The Last Thing I Told You; Emily Arsenault

The Last Thing I Told YouThe Last Thing I Told You by Emily Arsenault
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Good thriller for summer!

The whodunnit of Dr. Fabian's death is as interesting as the whydunnit: so many motives, so many suspects. And the setting, small town Connecticut, close to where I used to live, is well drawn. To say more would be to enter into spoiler territory. Let me just say that this is different from the usual book in this genre, more akin to Barbara Vine's books than what's been popular lately.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Book of Essie; Meghan MacLean Weir

The Book of EssieThe Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I remember when The Truman Show was in theaters and people thought the concept of tv screens watching your every move was weird. Now, not so much. Essie is in a type of Keeping Up with the Religious Kardashians/Jon & Kate Make 8/Duggars show, and has been all her life. She's figured out a few ways to rebel and is plotting her biggest rebellion yet... and in going there, the book highlights the hypocrisy and anti-reality of the "reality tv" movement. The characters and plot are pretty predictable, ditto the plot, but who cares? It's well-written and at times thought-provoking.

eARC provided by publisher.

Furyborn; Claire Legrand

Furyborn (Empirium, #1)Furyborn by Claire Legrand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first of a trilogy, so of course there's a lot left unsaid and unanswered. Unlike many (most?) YA speculative fiction trilogies, this is sent in two different timelines that ultimately come together at the end... will the next book be only one timeline? We'll have to see.

How are Rielle and Elena related? They're in different times, different countries and have different abilities. The world Elena lives in, 1000+ years after Rielle, needs a bit more fleshing out in terms of the religious beliefs (which are a huge part of the earlier timeline). Knowing some of that might help readers understand what's going on. As for the Rielle timeline, far too much time was spent on those trials. More about the different countries would have been nice (my fear is that this will end up like the Renthia trilogy, where only at the very end were the other countries talked about and then only very, very briefly.

I should note that the publisher invited me to a dinner featuring the author, but that didn't influence my review.

ARC provided by publisher.

Nyxia Unleashed; Scott Reintgen

Nyxia Unleashed (The Nyxia Triad #2)Nyxia Unleashed by Scott Reintgen
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

DNF - this so clearly requires the reader to have read the first book.

eARC provided by publisher.

Vox; Christina Dalcher

VoxVox by Christina Dalcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. Just... wow.

When I read The Handmaid's Tale when it first came out, my thought was that we weren't there, but we could be. And Vox gave me the same feeling (the science and technology aren't there yet, but give them a few years and... *shivver*).

Read this. Look at the rhetoric that's coming out of several of our politicians, including the President. Then fight.

eARC provided by publisher.

More Deadly Than War; Kenneth C. Davis

More Deadly Than War: The Hidden History of the Spanish Flu and the First World WarMore Deadly Than War: The Hidden History of the Spanish Flu and the First World War by Kenneth C. Davis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This will be perfect for younger readers who (as the book says) don't know about the 1918 flu pandemic* and that it was as deadly - more so, even - than the Great War. Focusing on the American experience, but touching on what happened around the world, the author shows how the flu spread and talks about attempts to stop that spread (spoiler: most of them didn't work).

For me, the timelines were a little skimpy (why not show a side-by-side of the war and the flu?) and the footnote formatting was the kind I hate most. Students using this for research are going to have to work doubly hard to find the original sources!

ARC provided by publisher.

* I was always aware of the flu, which felled my father's paternal grandfather and left the family struggling.

05 July 2018

There There; Tommy Orange

There ThereThere There by Tommy Orange
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I know I rail against the multiple POV trend but in this case, it kind of works. The author has said that he was attempting to portray the wide variety of Native experiences in Oakland; I suspect the only other way would have been to write a series of short stories and, well, this is better.

The different strands, following the lives of several people over the course of a few days, ultimately come together in a way that only slightly surprises. It's that journey, and the understanding that there is no stereotypical way to be Native, that those stories are as unique as any other group's stories, that makes this such a wonderful book.

I'm not on the committee, but I wouldn't be surprised if this doesn't get some Alex Award love in 2019.

eARC provided by publisher.

A People's History of the Vampire Uprising; Raymond A. Villareal

A People's History of the Vampire UprisingA People's History of the Vampire Uprising by Raymond A. Villareal
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This kind of wanted to have both sparkly vampires and and epidemic tale and, well, it doesn't mash together well. I felt as though I'd read this before.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Captives; Debra Jo Immergut

The CaptivesThe Captives by Debra Jo Immergut
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Set in a fictionalized version of Bedford Hills (the town and the correctional facility), and fairly unrealistic. But the story of how Miranda gets involved in such a bad relationship is one that can give readers pause - it's such a slippery slope into those relationships and recognizing the signs may help others help their friends.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers; Terri-Lynne DeFino

The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses)The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers by Terri-Lynne DeFino
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So very predictable, but a fun summer read anyway.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Fall of Innocence; Jenny Torres Sanchez

The Fall of InnocenceThe Fall of Innocence by Jenny Torres Sanchez
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Say it with me: please stop with the multiple POVs.

Beyond that, this was fairly predictable but teen readers will enjoy this book about a girl, horribly damaged by an attack when she was younger, and her attempts to be "normal" by having a boyfriend and going through regular high school. How that long-ago event still affects her mental state, and how she tries to deal with it, will sadden readers. As an adult, I wondered what happened to getting her into therapy, but that isn't ever discussed - and could be used as a starting point for a conversation about the need for mental health awareness.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Bookshop of Yesterdays; Amy Meyerson

The Bookshop of YesterdaysThe Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love books set in bookstores, but this one is less about the bookstore and more a summer beach read with romance (and a very predictable twist). Had the twist not happened, this would have been more than the rounded-up 2.5 stars.

eARC provided by publisher.