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.

The Boneless Mercies; April Genevieve Tucholke

The Boneless MerciesThe Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was rounded up from 3.5 - some of the world building is weak, ditto the character development.

As an idea, the Mercies (a group of women paid to help people die, usually in vengence) is interesting. Not quite assassins, not quite mercy killers, something inbetween. Tired of all that, the four (Frey, Ovie, Runa and Juniper) decide to try for fame and fortune by killing a beast and along the way they meet Trigve (who joins their merry band, but is never quite a full member) while also living among the Sea Witches, spending time with the Cut Queen and journeying to their ultimate goal: slaying the Grendel-like beast. Sadly, more time was needed to flesh out - for example - the Sea Witches and their world/mythology than was taken, so often the reader will find wonderful moments rushed. Perhaps fewer adventures would have helped?

eARC provided by publisher.

A Very Large Expanse of Sea; Tahereh Mafi

A Very Large Expanse of SeaA Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Apparently semi-biographical and very relatable. After September 11, what Muslim girl would voluntarily wear hijab? Shirin, for one. Her family has moved so many times that she's virtually given up hope of fitting in, and the hijab leads to comments and harassment that she's become used to. Then she meets a boy, one who seems to actually want to get to know her - not as a joke or dare. The clash of cultures is one that I suspect many students will recognize, as is Shirin's fear that Ocean is just joking when he claims he wants to be her friend. That she chooses to continue to wear hijab will perhaps inspire those who want to be true to themselves despite pressure to conform.

eARC provided by publisher.

12 November 2018

Close to Home; Peter Robinson

Close to Home (Inspector Banks, #13)Close to Home by Peter Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What would you do if a childhood friend disappeared, then 35 years later you learn that he was murdered? That's the situation for Alan Banks, taking him away from his vacation in Greece (much needed, and now shortened) - but it's not, as they say, on his patch. Of course he's involved, if only as a potential witness, and of course he finds out that there's more to his old friend's life than met the eye. What is more interesting is the relationship between Banks and his parents and how they react not just to his profession but also to how it leads him into an investigation close to home. There's another mystery here, a missing teen being investigated by Annie Cabot. While the two cases aren't related, the mistakes both Banks and Cabot make are interestingly similar.

Having recently read Book 12 (Aftermath) it was really easy to understand the non-procedural parts. Only a few more and I'll have read the entire series and have a really complete picture of who Banks is... maybe.

The Dreamers; Karen Thompson Walker

The DreamersThe Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I loved The Age of Miracles, particularly its look at how society falls apart when the environment changes so radically (in this case, the earth stops turning). This book looks at another odd occurance leading to a breakdown - people falling so deeply asleep that they appear dead. And it's contagious. Maybe. With the sleeping toll mounting and the town in quarrantine, how do people (including children left "behind" when their parents fall asleep) cope? And how does the medical profession react?

Walker's attention to detail, coupled with imagining the effect of this sleeping disease, is impressive. The relationships between most of the characters, however, were often predictable. More surprise there would have been welcome.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Light Between Worlds; Laura E. Weymouth

The Light Between WorldsThe Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So clearly a mash-up of C.S. Lewis' Narnia, Lev Grossman's Magicians and Seanan MacGuire's Wayward Children series - but so well done. Set in wartime London, the Hapwell children end up - somehow - in the Woodlands, a Narnia-like country beset by a Calormen-like army. They live there for years, then return to London seconds after they left. But, like all other children taken from one world to another, they yearn to get back. Unlike the Wayward Children, there is no school to go to where they can be among others who have had similar experiences. Instead, there's a traditional English boarding school (well, schools, one for Evelyn and Philippa and one for their brother Jamie). Can they adapt? And when it's clear that Ev can't, when her disappearance from school is under investigation by Scotland Yard, how will her siblings react? Jamie seems to disappear, while Pippa returns from the United States and begins working at the National Gallery while helping (sort of) the investigation. There's some uneven writing and pacing, but the emotional states of Ev and Pippa and the world(s) in which they live are wonderfully depicted.

Many reviews mention that readers may be triggered by Ev's actions in our world as she mourns her exile from the Woodlands. So I'll only say, read them before picking this up.

eARC provided by publisher.