28 February 2019

Beautiful Bad; Annie Ward

Beautiful BadBeautiful Bad by Annie Ward
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There are a number of holes here, partly due to the multiple timelines and POVs we get as we learn exactly what happened in this suburban home one night. It was clear to me that there were facts that we weren't getting from Maddie in either the timeline when she and Ian are meeting and getting to know each other, nor in the present where she and Jo are estranged friends. What exactly was missing wasn't entirely clear, it was just a sense. Getting Diane's investigative narrative and Ian's POV didn't necessarily clarify things, and it's only at the end do readers get all the pieces of the puzzle. The problem is that these types of books work best when it's not quite as obvious that there's something Not Quite Right.

ARC provided by publisher.

Running on Empty; S.E. Durrant

Running on EmptyRunning on Empty by S.E. Durrant
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A family on the edge of poverty (they have barely enough) because the parents both have some mental disability and the grandfather who looked after things financially has died doesn't have the money for extras, like good running shoes. But A.J. needs those shoes because he's a runner, just like his grandfather way. Maybe he's even good enough to, as his grandfather was, run in the Olympics... but he needs those shoes. A.J. is also aware enough that his family's situation needs to be kept from others, but there are some who see what's going on an offer help, however slyly. The London setting means that the systems US readers might assume are in place aren't there, and I often wished we got more about A.J.'s parents.

ARC provided by publisher.

Women Rebel; Peter Bagge

Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger StoryWoman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story by Peter Bagge
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There need to be more in this series. People who read my reviews know that I'm not a huge Graphic Novel fan, and that holds true here. Overriding that is the fact that the story, which is a rather complex one, is well told in a way that MG and teen readers will understand. Add to that the front and back matter, giving great context and additional resources, and you get five stars.

27 February 2019

A Drop of Hope; Keith Calabrese

A Drop of HopeA Drop of Hope by Keith Calabrese
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm a little tired of the rich kid who isn't liked because he's both rich and weird trope, and this book has that. The coincidences that lead to the town's change, where hope is somehow spread via presents that go awry, are a little much but also make some sense. What bothered me more was a teacher so supposedly loved his students letting a reporter try to trip up one of those students - that rang very false.

ARC provided by publisher.

Magic By the Book; Nina Bernstein

Magic By the BookMagic By the Book by Nina Bernstein
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So much promise here that doesn't quite get fulfilled. The opening, with the magical book that leads to Sherwood Forrest and an adventure with Robin and his Merry Men, is wonderful. So is the namedropping of so many other books and authors who have written similar books (like the Narnia books, or E Nesbit). Even the second adventure in an entirely new world is fun. But the third, in the world of War and Peace doesn't fit at all. It's not a story MG readers will know and without that they'll be disappointed.

My Lovely Wife; Samantha Downing

My Lovely WifeMy Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Is it a spoiler to say that the narrator might be unreliable? The life that Millicent and her (unnamed) husband have created is seemingly perfect: she's a high profile real estate agent, he's a country club tennis pro, and their children are living the lives so many suburban middle class children live. But things aren't quite so perfect after all - the happy couple are a little more like Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo than Ozzie and Harriet, only unlike Karla and Paul they decide to blame everything on an infamous serial killer who had lived in their town years before. There's a twist at the end that made me question what I'd read before, but then, we're only getting a first person account of everything.

ARC provided by publisher.

26 February 2019

Elsey Come Home; Susan Conley

Elsey Come HomeElsey Come Home by Susan Conley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Elsey is clearly suffering some sort of depression, and her husband's response is to send her on a yoga retreat. The timeline here gets blurred between her life before and life during this retreat, which doesn't always help the narrative. Add to that the slimness of the book and the Chinese setting and there's something lacking - for example, one of the people on the retreat is the wife of a Chinese artist who speaks out against the government, something that perhaps deserves a little more context than is given. The ending also feels rushed given the pacing of the earlier part.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Great Jeff; Tony Abbott

The Great JeffThe Great Jeff by Tony Abbott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A book that could help readers empathize with those who are, sadly, homeless or nearly so. Jeff's situation changes due to his parent's divorce, then his father's choices and his mother's alcoholism. It's a slow, inevitable slide that starts with changing schools and ends with the loss of the home Jeff's grandfather lived in. And, like many in this position, Jeff doesn't want anyone to know or where to find help. The biggest problem is that Jeff is unlikeable (possibly as a defense, possibly because he's just a bit of a jerk) and when he talks about going FULL JEFF I just lost interest.

ARC provided by publisher.

Careless Love; Peter Robinson

Careless Love (Inspector Banks, #25)Careless Love by Peter Robinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yes, this goes a little slowly but that's ok - not every case needs to be wrapped up quickly. And the threads from previous books tying into this one and (I sense) beyond that aren't about the personal lives of the characters are welcome. As for the case itself, this isn't one of those where the whodunnit clues are evident for those who pay attention, this is one where the reader follows along with the officers and learns what they learn along with them. (I'm often torn between which I prefer.) Here, again, we have both Alan and Annie starting off on two different things and meeting up because those things are related and I do wonder if this is going to be the new trend.

25 February 2019

The River; Peter Heller

The RiverThe River by Peter Heller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Far too much about the scenery and kayaking for a book that is supposed to be a thriller of sorts. There are moments at the start of the book where the tension appears (meeting the men, for example, or seeing the fire) but even after Wynn and Jack make the decision to go back to warn about the fire and the action should pick up it doesn't. There was a great deal of skimming on my part.

ARC provided by publisher.

Birdie; Eileen Spinelli

BirdieBirdie by Eileen Spinelli
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I so wished this hadn't been a novel in verse. MG readers dealing with the loss of a parent and the changes that brings, including how the remaining parent might change, would really benefit from this but most won't look past the first few pages (poetry is scary, apparently).

ARC provided by publisher.

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls; T Kira Madden

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless GirlsLong Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

DNF'd halfway through - there was too much that felt extraneous and too little that made me care about her story. I get why the narrative jumped around but it didn't help.

ARC provided by publisher.

24 February 2019

Spies of No Country; Matti Friedman

Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of IsraelSpies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel by Matti Friedman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The author is writing an adult nonfiction book but it reads more like YA narrative nonfiction. That's not a bad thing, but I had to keep reminding myself that this was an adult book. What did annoy me more was the author's inserting himself into the story far too frequently, and some of the explanations of names could have been done in an author's note. This is also a very slim volume that attempts to both highlight the people involved in the Arab Section of the Palmach and what was going on politically (and religiously) in what we now call Israel shortly before and after the country was founded. There is some discussion of the differences between the European Jews and those from the Middle East, as well as something about how the various Arab countries felt about what was happening due to the British pulling out but a fuller explanation might have helped those who don't really know about that era.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Princess and the Fangirl; Ashely Poston

The Princess and the FangirlThe Princess and the Fangirl by Ashley Poston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Definitely for fans of fandoms and stanning and shipping, but a little too like Ship It for my tastes. That Jess is so clueless about how important her role is to people and that Imogene doesn't understand how difficult it could be to portray an iconic role just doesn't ring true. Jess wants to be a serious actor, yet doesn't really seem to have investigated the role or the world (if the original series is so important to people, why wouldn't the reboot be?) and Imogene appears to have never heard or realized that some actors don't want to only be their role (Alec Guinness, anyone?). If this hadn't also had many, many references to other scifi/fantasy books and movies it might have made sense but this isn't set in a vacuum. Having said that, there's a caper aspect to this that appealed to me. Even better, you didn't have to read Geekarella to understand this world!

ARC provided by publisher.

The Quintland Sisters; Shelley Wood

The Quintland SistersThe Quintland Sisters by Shelley Wood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The use of real news stories and reports about the Dionne quintuplets makes this feel less like historical fiction and more like the newly published diary of one of the carers in Quintland. Emma is a little too naive for the world she finds herself in, not really knowing how to read people and events (she's especially blind to the exploitation of the girls), which bothered me. The reason she finally leaves her "home" with them could have been done differently, with a little more obscuring of the perpetrator than happens. It also felt as though that should have been the end - the last part, with her back for Emilie's funeral and reflecting on the events between her time with the girls and then, could have been left out and made the book stronger.

ARC provided by publisher.

12 February 2019

The Last Life of Prince Alastor; Alexandra Bracken

The Last Life of Prince Alastor (The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding #2)The Last Life of Prince Alastor by Alexandra Bracken
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having not read the first book did pose problems at times, but the author does a somewhat decent job of "previously-ing". I really wished that more time had been spent in the market, that it had been expanded because there were hints of some really interesting things going on. Alastor's voice in Prosper's head was very funny, the mixture of contempt, interest, cunning, cattiness and self-preservation working really well. Prosper himself grows during the book, learning how to get around Alastor's presence and realizing that some things he'd assumed he knew weren't always true.

Now I have to go back to read Book 1, and hope for Book 3 (although I suspect we won't get that).

ARC provided by publisher.

The Hunting Party; Lucy Foley

The Hunting PartyThe Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've always loved the idea of a locked room mystery (even if the "room" is an island - as in And Then There Were None) and this "room" (aka a remote hunting lodge that's snowed in) does not disappoint. One of the norms in this genre is that everyone, even the most innocuous-seeming character, has a secret and could be a suspect. Even knowing that, the actual murderer almost surprised me. I say "almost" only because I'd recently read a book with a similar twist at the end and that made me hone in on that person; had that not been the case I would have been pleasantly surprised.

eARC provided by publisher.

11 February 2019

Talent; Juliet Lapidos

TalentTalent by Juliet Lapidos
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Can't we just say, yes, this is set in New Haven and Yale? Why is the location given a new name ? Heck, I used a map app and found the building in which Our Heroine "lives". In terms of plot, this could have been far more interesting. It's understandable that Anna is experiencing a lack of enthusiasm and inspiration over her doctoral thesis (haven't we all been there at one time or another - starting a project and then just getting all "meh" about it?) but she, her thesis advisor, her "rival" in the department, and everyone else is just stereotypical and predictable. The only high points were the interspersed Langley writings, and I started to wonder if the author had concentrated more there this wouldn't have been better.

eARC provided by publisher.

The Kingdom of Copper; S.A. Chakraborty

The Kingdom of Copper (The Daevabad Trilogy, #2)The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading this closer to having read The City of Brass would have helped, as it took me a little time to remember exactly who was who and what had happened. I can imagine that readers starting with this book will have greater difficulty because the world Chakraborty has created is so dense and the relationships complicated enough to need a good "previously" section.

The three narratives take a while to intersect, and there questions that aren't fully answered: why was Ali exiled/sent away (the "keeping you from being assassinated" thing seems wrong, especially with what comes after), exactly what is the reason Dara was brought back (if that's really what happened - I'm unclear about what happened in the years between the two books), and how Nahri's relationship with Muntadhir works (at times they seem to be at least friends, and at times she seems to hate him, often with little difference between those times). By the time the three are together again, we've read maybe 75% of the book - and all three feel conflicted about what their relationships are and to whom their loyalties lie. Annnnd... we'll have to wait for Book Three. Sigh.

eARC provided by publisher.

When You Read This; Mary Adkins

When You Read ThisWhen You Read This by Mary Adkins
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The easy quip is that when you read this, you won't finish - for me, 25% was enough to know that I didn't care about the characters (two, Jade and Carl I actively started to hate) and that making this a DNF was the far better idea.

eARC provided by publisher.

10 February 2019

The Stranger Diaries; Elly Griffiths

The Stranger DiariesThe Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Definitely creepy - is Clare guilty? is she going nuts? Who would want to murder the people she knows and point the finger at her, much less why? There's a quiet growing of menace here, with Clare's responses to the weirdness going on around her ringing true. Her relationship with the police also mimics what I imagine my relationship would be if these things were going on in my life, while the twist at the end is one I definitely didn't see.

eARC provided by publisher.

The Gilded Wolves; Roshani Chokshi

The Gilded Wolves (The Gilded Wolves, #1)The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm rounding up from 3-ish stars because I know some of my YA readers are going to love this... but really? There are problems with the writing (overdone to a ridiculous degree), not to mention the fact that Six of Crows and Grim Lovelies are similar (the latter is actually set in Paris!). There are some interesting "sets", like the hotel and the catacombs, and with the exception of Hypnos and Severine the main characters were interesting. So a strong 3-ish, and the hope that in the next book some of the problems are corrected.

eARC provided by publisher.

The Music of What Happens; Bill Konigsberg

The Music of What HappensThe Music of What Happens by Bill Konigsberg
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wanted to care about this story, but there was just too much going on and I ended up with a form of compassion fatigue. Max' "dude bro" persona hides his fear/internal uncertainty that his encounter with Peter was, in fact, rape - and that storyline is very well done. I imagine that many teens (ok, adults too) wonder about some of their sexual encounters, if they weren't that interested and yet physically responded. Then there's Jordan and his problems with his mother's gambling, potential homelessness, and aching loss of his father. Again, that storyline is very well done. And there's the partnership/friendship between Max and Jordan, two entirely different "types" who manage to get behind the surface persona as they work together on Jordan's family food truck. Another well done storyline. But the combination? This reader got tired and started to skim, skipping pages and chapters.

Konigsberg's previous work has had fewer foci, making them all the more powerful. That "less is more" thing really would have worked here.

ARC provided by publisher.

04 February 2019

In a House of Lies; Ian Rankin

In a House of Lies (Inspector Rebus, #22)In a House of Lies by Ian Rankin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh Rebus... what can I say? Somethings have mellowed, but they haven't changed: the drinking, the bending of rules, the deep knowledge of people and their history are still there but not always as sharp as they once were. Luckily, there's Siobhan and Malcolm around to help and keep Rebus alive (honestly, if he weren't "Rebus" he'd be dead, right?).

There are moments when I wonder what Rankin is planning to do with Rebus because while I like the others, it's really Rebus that makes the books. In this entry, there are things from previous books that come back in - Ger Caffrey's involvement in Edinburgh's criminal life, for example - and those could keep Rebus busy for a while, unofficially of course. But Rebus is aging, he has COPD, and unless Rankin wants us to completely suspend belief about Rebus' abilities...

Americanized; Sara Saedi

Americanized: Rebel Without a Green CardAmericanized: Rebel Without a Green Card by Sara Saedi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In many ways this is an update to Funny in Farsi but it's probably easier for current students to relate to Sara's story (for no other reason than she's more contemporary). Sara's struggle to be both Persian and American and her explanations of their culture and the asides give a great insight into one immigrant experience. The fear she has about her lack of a green card and illegal/undocumented status feel a little muted given the ways in which the current government has cracked down on all immigration and those who aren't "following the rules" but may be a good way to begin to understand those lives.

The Au Pair; Emma Rous

The Au PairThe Au Pair by Emma Rous
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anyone expecting something like The Nanny Diaries is going to be disappointed. Instead, this is a mystery of sorts: what exactly are the biological ties between Danny, Seraphine and Edwin? what happened to Edwin's twin? And why hasn't anyone heard from Edwin's beloved former au pair, who left suddenly the day Danny and Seraphine were born? There are whispers in the village, photographs that don't make sense and a house at stake. At times, the flashbacks drag but without them the modern day events won't quite make sense.

eARC provided by publisher.

Ghost Wall; Sarah Moss

Ghost WallGhost Wall by Sarah Moss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a very difficult read, because Silvie's mother and father are so disturbing. I know that people like them do exist, and that Silvie's life isn't that unusual, but it's still disturbing to read. Setting the events in a pre-modern technology age (phone boxes rather than cell phones) does explain more about why things unfold as they do, not just with the lack of ways to reach the "real" work but also in how we thought about and dealt with problems in families. It also explains why the reenactment of early Briton life is so flawed. All that said, I couldn't put this down.

eARC provided by publisher.

The Girl King; Mimi Yu

The Girl King (The Girl King, #1)The Girl King by Mimi Yu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm getting a little tired of the "sisters raised differently and eventually at odds/war with each other" thing. This would have been two stars for that, and because we spend far too much time with Lu and Nok and Min and less time understanding the world or the beliefs (there are some interesting twists on the Shangri-La plot, for example). But I'm giving it three because even with that, there's something about Lu that I found appealing and I'm holding out hope that we learn more about this world in Book 2.

eARC provided by publisher.

03 February 2019

Frederik Sandwich and the Earthquake That Couldn't Possibly Be; Kevin John Scott

Frederik Sandwich and the Earthquake That Couldn't Possibly BeFrederik Sandwich and the Earthquake That Couldn't Possibly Be by Kevin John Scott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's never clear what's wrong with Frederik's name, but it is very clear that he's been ostracized for whatever it is that's wrong. That wrong-ness also leads to his being afraid/unafraid of finding out why there was no earthquake, and what the very old, very weird train that shouldn't be running to stations that don't exist. I loved Frederik's voice and his bravery while insisting that all he wants is to just be left alone to go about his business. This will be a huge hit with my MG readers.

Copy provided by publisher.

Once Upon a River; Diane Setterfield

Once Upon a RiverOnce Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There's one review I read where the reader appeared to think that the landscape here was made up. No, it wasn't: I spent time (probably too much, to be honest) tracing the path of this story and, given the difference in timing between the story's era and ours, many of the manors and towns still exist. And clearly the author has done a lot of research into how people lived back then, so the realism makes the surreal parts feel even more odd.

Yes, this is a slow read. There's not a lot of action, it's more character studies and people interacting. The events that unfold - from the child's coming back to life to the search for her parents to the lives of those in the town and the small, ancient in - are what makes this so powerful. There are times readers will have to remind themselves that these are not modern people, that to them, ghosts and spirits and evil really existed and affected lives. Stick with this book. It's worth it.

eARC provided by publisher.

The Deepest Blue; Sara Beth Durst

The Deepest Blue (Tales of Renthia)The Deepest Blue by Sarah Beth Durst
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At the end of The Queen of Sorrow we hear about the other countries(? lands?) of Renthia, places where the trees aren't large enough to house villages and where the succession might be a little easier. So how excited was I that we were going to a new Renthian place, an island chain that appears to have just as stressed a relationship with its spirits and a more stressful heir process. Had the blurbage not mentioned The Hunger Games I'd have been happy - this could easily have been "like Grace & Fury".

With a little editing and more time spent learning more about the rituals and beliefs, as we did with The Queen of Blood, this would have been a definite five star. Instead, this feels a little rushed when we're dealing with that aspect and drags when we're meeting the potential heirs and their time on the Island of Testing.

eARC provided by publisher.

Bright Burning Stars; A.K. Small

Bright Burning StarsBright Burning Stars by A.K. Small
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a book set in the Paris Opera Ballet School, you'd expect some French. It's the way in which every phrase is translated that feels wrong, particularly when the ballet stuff is left alone (anyone who doesn't take ballet know what a fouette is? or why the students are called rats?). There are also holes in Kate's backstory (Kate appears to never have gone home or seen her father since leaving for France?) that never get resolved.

Having said that, this feels like what a ballet school feels like - the competition, the dieting, the relationships, and the fear of the future. That's what elevates the rest of the rather predictable story.

ARC provided by publisher.

Stepsister; Jennifer Donnelly

StepsisterStepsister by Jennifer Donnelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fate and Chance and an Ugly Stepsister? Ok, this could be interesting. Plus, I love the author.

Final result? Mostly great. Starting off with the Grimm's version (rather more gruesome than Perrault's and - of course - Disney's) is always a good choice. Putting one of the stepsisters in the center of the action is another good choice. So is introducing Fate and Chance. But leaving Chance out of a lot of the action? Spending so much time on the farm? Not as helpful. The pacing is also a little off, particularly during the last part of the book.

ARC provided by publisher.