31 May 2019

Red Birds; Mohammed Hanif

Red BirdsRed Birds by Mohammed Hanif
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Multiple POVs, including one from Mutt, make this more of a mystery than it needs to be. What mystery? There are two: will Momo find his brother? and will Major Ellie find his way back to his base? Life in the village now that the Americans have drawn back from their nearby base isn't easy for anyone, but having Ellie and a UN trauma specialist descend on Momo's family doesn't help... or does it?

ARC provided by publisher.

Diary of a Dead Man on Leave; David Downing

Diary of a Dead Man on LeaveDiary of a Dead Man on Leave by David Downing
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Note to self: ignore the publisher's description. This is 97% the story of "Josef Hofmann" and only 3% the story of Walter Gersdorff, which isn't what the blurb seems to promise. Getting what Walter thought was going on would have been nice, elevating this from being an otherwise fairly average WWII novel.

ARC provided by publisher.

30 May 2019

The Snakes; Sadie Jones

The SnakesThe Snakes by Sadie Jones
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When none of the characters are likable and the entire book hinges on Dark Family Secrets being revealed in one way or another that's not the best start. The racism of the French police and the difference between the French and the English systems of policing and investigating are highlighted and are, in some ways, the best part of the book. The ending felt inevitable but unsatisfying.

ARC provided by publisher.

Searching for Sylvie Lee; Jean Kwok

Searching for Sylvie LeeSearching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ugly duckling Amy has always been in awe of her beautiful, smart older sister Sylvie and bravely heads to the Netherlands to find out what happened and why Sylvie is missing. Telling this through alternating POV doesn't help (it might have helped if one or two chapters were, but not all) but ultimately the story resolves with all the dark family secrets coming out. Loss of points for making New York and the Netherlands feel like the same place.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Enlightenment of Bees; Rachel Linden

The Enlightenment of BeesThe Enlightenment of Bees by Rachel Linden
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Up until the part where the group gets diverted from India to Hungary I read pretty carefully - after that, I sped through the book. If you're looking for a beach read with something of a message and some romance, read. Otherwise, it's too slight for the message and too light on the romance.

ARC provided by publisher.

29 May 2019

In the Neighborhood of True; Susan Kaplan Carlton

In the Neighborhood of TrueIn the Neighborhood of True by Susan Kaplan Carlton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Historical fiction is always tricky and here I wondered why the author changed the name of the synagogue that was bombed in Atlanta. Changing the name of the school that Ruth goes to made sense, ditto the clubs. But the synagogue? Not so much. The subtle anti-semitism of Fontaine and the anti-Yankee sentiment of nearly everyone was well done, ditto the confusion Ruth feels about the rules of the society into which she's thrown.

ARC provided by publisher.

Sorcery of Thorns; Margaret Rogerson

Sorcery of ThornsSorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved the magical library and that Elisabeth had such a close relationship with the books. The mystery of who she is and how different she is from others in the library isn't fully explained but it's clear that there's something to be explored there. When she leaves the safety of the library and heads to the capital that difference helps; the relationships she forges with Silas and Nathaniel are a lot of fun. Sadly, that Big Battle Scene does seem rushed and a little difficult to follow. But the ending, on a great cliffhanger? If there's another book I'd be happy to read it.

eARC provided by publisher.

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone; Felicity McLean

The Van Apfel Girls Are GoneThe Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The mystery of what happened to the Van Apfel girls is never resolved, despite Tikka's trying to prod memories out of her older sister. There's a nod to Picnic at Hanging Rock in Ruth's reappearance, and the heat plays almost a supporting role, but beyond that what happened to Hannah and Cordelia is left up to our imagination. Inserting the Chamberlain "dingo ate my baby" case into this served to both highlight Tik's obsession with finding out what happened and to clearly place this in Australia rather than just any overly hot small community. At times Tik's voice is more adult than an 11-year-old would normally be, inconsistent with her not fully understanding what she's seeing around her.

ARC provided by publisher.

28 May 2019

The Little Teashop on Main; Jodi Thomas

The Little Teashop on MainThe Little Teashop on Main by Jodi Thomas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sweet beach read (bring hankies for the ending). The friendship between Zoe, Emily and Shannon feels so real, from the start as they prepare for school through their growing older. The romances in also feel real and well-paced. My biggest quibble is with the lack of recipes!

eARC provided by publisher.

City of Girls; Elizabeth Gilbert

City of GirlsCity of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Any book that names the village next to the town I grew up in and my alma mater will pique my interest; by the end it was unclear why either had been chosen. Vivian's fall from grace at school and entry into the world of relatively seedy theatre in New York is done well, despite no character being completely likable or fully realized. There are some interesting issues of class raised (Vivian/Celia, for example) and the difference between life in Upstate New York and New York City is highlighted by when Vivian goes back home.

ARC provided by publisher.

Magic for Liars; Sarah Gailey

Magic for LiarsMagic for Liars by Sarah Gailey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A murder mystery set in a boarding school for mages? Ok, I'll bite. The mystery part is slight, with more work done on character development than actual sleuthing; the magic part is very technical (no wands waving and faux-Latin being yelled) or used as a form of cosmetics. Most of the time Ivy is either drunk or hungover, which made me wonder how she could possibly solve this. In fact, her conclusions appear to be almost stumbled into rather than any serious investigating. I also wish more of the students had played a role. Overall, rounding up from 3.5.

eARC provided by publisher.

27 May 2019

Bunny; Mona Awad

BunnyBunny by Mona Awad
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

WHAT did I just read? It starts off in the classic "outsider looking at clique" mode (very The Secret History) and ends up with me waiting for the hint that there were serious drugs or a fevered dreams going on. The whole bunny thing is deeply disturbing, whether the animal or the group of girls, while Ava's and Jacob's roles in Samantha's life are clearly not going to end well. Setting this at a version of Brown University and namedropping Lovecraft and Cthulu doesn't help explain any of this. Or maybe it does? At times I thought that the author had two different books in mind and ended up combining them in a way that sometimes works and sometimes just confuses.

eARC provided by publisher.

All the Greys on Greene Street; Laura Tucker

All the Greys on Greene StreetAll the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great depiction of life in SoHo in the 1980s (in the mid-80s I worked nearby and enjoyed the trip down memory lane). Olympia's friendships and activities are also very well depicted; her struggle to keep what's going on at home with her mother's depression will disturb those who don't remember that era and public schools not being as involved in student home lives. The art aspect added a nice touch, but I wonder if the use of pencil was chosen because it was easier to reproduce in print.

eARC provided by publisher.

Silver in the Wood; Emily Tesh

Silver in the WoodSilver in the Wood by Emily Tesh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Quick read (only about 100 pages) and oddly paced. There were times when the action moved very slowly, and times when it felt like things got cut that would have been better left in. For those who know the Green Man myth, this is a great addition to the collection but those who don't may not understand what is going on as clearly. The mystery of Tobias is somewhat solved (one of those "I wish there were more" parts) but left open is what his future will be. I'm undecided if that's a good thing or not.

eARC provided by publisher.

10 May 2019

Westside; W.M. Akers

WestsideWestside by W.M. Akers
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

DNF. The start of this was interesting, but then there was too much going on. Editing out something would have helped - perhaps staying with the "tiny" mysteries would have been a better strategy.

eARC provided by publisher.

Bonavere Howl; Caitlin Galway

Bonavere HowlBonavere Howl by Caitlin Galway
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Historical fiction that just oozes Southern Gothic. Bonavere's sister's disappearance and the search for her don't go well. With the police doing virtually nothing, her parents either drugged or absent, and her sister doing her own thing, Bonnie at first tries to find her sister with the help of a black friend (doesn't end well) and then on her own (again, doesn't end well). There is history, creepy bayous, plantation homes and tons of atmosphere. Having said that, there was something slightly off. Perhaps it was because there was no one I cared about in this book, or perhaps it was because all the events felt forced.

eARC provided by publisher.

09 May 2019

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna; Juliet Grames

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella FortunaThe Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Historical fiction loosely based on the author's family, which added to the sense that these were real lives we were reading about. That was the good part. But when Stella gets married, I started to skim pretty quickly - the person I'd gotten to know didn't exist any longer in a way that didn't feel authentic.

ARC provided by publisher.

Middlegame; Seanan McGuire

MiddlegameMiddlegame by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My first non-Wayward Children book by Seanan McGuire and I really liked it. Sometimes this was too long, and there were things that I didn't understand (the whole Doctrine of Ethos and Invisible City thing, for example), but overall this was great. There are moments when it's confusing, like how things get re-set, but that gets explained in the end. And this is one of the best uses of The Wizard of Oz in a long time, and more plausible in a way than the whole gold/silver standard argument, debunked here.

I've seen some reviews that argue that neither Rodger nor Dodger are likable, but honestly, were they meant to be?

eARC provided by publisher.

08 May 2019

Order of the Majestic; Matt Myklusch

Order of the MajesticOrder of the Majestic by Matt Myklusch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you're a fan of the ordinary boy is actually someone special genre this is for you. Joey, from Hoboken, is as ordinary as they get except when it comes to seeing something in tests and questions that explains the logic behind them, allowing him to somehow get perfect scores on a bunch of standardized tests. Which leads to him being invited to attend an incredible school for similarly special students... which leads to an adventure that no one, anywhere, would expect.

This feels like the start to a series, and I hope it is. As a one-off it was good but I can imagine middle school readers wanting more of Joey and his friends.

eARC provided by publisher.

Finale; Stephanie Gerber

Finale (Caraval, #3)Finale by Stephanie Garber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This series followed the Hunger Games pattern: the first two books (Caraval and Legendary) were virtually the same book, while the third book departs from the previous structure and tone. In neither case does that really work.

One of my problems with Legendary was that we were introduced to the Deck of Destiny and the various Fates but they were left somewhat undefined. There are more Fates in Finale and once again, they aren't well defined or explained. I did love Jacks (in both books) and wanted more of a choice between him and Dante for Tella, something that doesn't quite happen here. I'm afraid to say more so I don't spoil things!

This gets four stars because there are some great set scenes and the characters we've met before evolve in interesting ways. One star take away because there are things that are left out - some of which could have been shifted to Book Two and continued here to give a better sense of concluding the trilogy.

eARC provided by publisher.

07 May 2019

The Burning Chambers; Kate Mosse

The Burning ChambersThe Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So long. So very, very long. That's partly because the history is told somewhat clunkily, in unrealistic conversations between characters or in an aside. A better author's note might have helped cut back on that. And despite what I've read elsewhere, this is not a complete book - the prologue doesn't tie in with anything, but will (I'm guessing) resolve in Book Three or Four.

Having said that, the setting is beautifully described and the events are of an era we don't often read or hear about. Carcassone is one of those legendary cities, and while we only get to know a piece of it that glimpse is enough to draw readers in to the religious wars that swept through that area of France. Minou and Piet have a lot of weight to carry in terms of illuminating the issues, and they fall a little short for anyone who knows a lot about the Catholic/Huguenot tensions but as historical fiction they're solid characters.

eARC provided by publisher.

There's Something About Sweetie; Sandhya Menon

There's Something About SweetieThere's Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Best. Promposal. Ever. For that alone, two stars.

The rest is solidly written and a good "sequel" to When Dimple Met Rishi. This time the role of Dimple not wanting the arranged match falls to Ash, Rishi's brother, a nice twist. Sweetie's body image and self-confidence issues are very real and will resonate with any girl not falling in that not-skinny-but-confident(ish) category. TBH, I wish I'd had Sweetie's story to read when I was in high school.

eARCs provided by publisher.

06 May 2019

Again, but Better; Christine Riccio

Again, but BetterAgain, but Better by Christine Riccio
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

DNF - other books have done this far better, and with characters that are actually likable.

The Sentence is Death; Anthony Horowitz

The Sentence is Death (Hawthorne, #2)The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz
My rating: 4 of 5 star

I love that the clues are all there, but as "Tony" says, we don't recognize the significance of them. It makes the eventual solution feel real, and as a reader/solver I can go back to see where I/"Tony" failed. Knowing up front that he'd missed clues or misread them (as had happened in the first book) made me read more carefully; I managed to get one or two right but not all. This is so much better than the detective looking at a report that readers don't get a glimpse of and then solving the case, or intuiting something we don't have access to.

Hawthorne's Holmesian take on events is slightly diminished when we learn about the hacking and I'm waiting to see how all that plays out in the next book. It's also great that we're expanding Hawthorne's world. Unlike the first book, there's less name dropping and "look at me, big writer who knows famous people" here, a definite plus. The descriptions of London are wonderfully drawn, almost cinematic in precision. Is a tv series deal in the works? And if so, with Michael Kitchen play Michael Kitchen (I'm not a Foyle's fan, but I do love Michael Kitchen!).

eARC provided by publisher.