31 December 2019

Don't Read the Comments; Eric Smith

Don't Read the CommentsDon't Read the Comments by Eric Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There was a lot of promise here in terms of gamergate and doxxing, and how the world of online gaming is not fair to women. That part misses a little, especially at the end. Vox Populii doesn't go too far, which they would have done in the real world.

But the relationship between Divya and Rebekah, how they built their online presence and tried to protect Rebekah when she was assaulted was really well drawn, as was the relationship that grows between Divya and Aaron. Aaron's "job" trying to write a plot for another game, and how that turns out, could be object lessons for teens interested in similar careers. And Aaron's father and sister? Loved them.

eARC provided by publisher.

The Truants; Kate Weinberg

The TruantsThe Truants by Kate Weinberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At first this had a real Secret History flavor, with that charismatic professor and adoring students who form a tight group. Except not everyone in the group is a student of Lorna's, and there seems to be something a little off about her. And the tight group is only two couples, with fractures forming fairly quickly. At the end, it's Jess who pursues Lorna as a mentor and guide, seeking her out when things between the group splinter irreparably. Lorna seems willing to serve in that role, even bringing Jess to her remote island off Italy's coast but then... well... no spoilers.

There something a little less here than there could be, with obvious plot points. If there had been anything unusual or different about the relationships or Lorna's choices this would have been a definite five star. As it is, I rounded up from 3.5.

eARC provided by publisher.

Things in Jars; Jess Kidd

Things in JarsThings in Jars by Jess Kidd
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm hoping this becomes a series, but only with the detective (Mrs. Devine) solving different cases. The mix of mythology and Victorian era works, because back then almost anything could have happened. Grave robbing, thick fogs, people living in squalor or incredible comfort, carriage rides and hidden identities are all part of our common "knowledge" of that time so this book fits right in.

Mrs. Devine is not quite Sherlock, but she's pretty unflappable in the face of Odd Happenings and good at figuring out who or what and how. And with Cora, her 7-foot-tall maid helping out, there's nothing she can't handle. So when there's a missing child, she's the obvious person to turn to. When that child is - to put it mildly - different, she's only interested in getting her back safely. And then there's Ruby Doyle, a ghost who is somehow drawn to Mrs. Devine via something in their past. More, please.

eARC provided by publisher.

30 December 2019

All the Stars and Teeth; Adalyn Grace

All the Stars and Teeth (All the Stars and Teeth, #1)All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's never a good sign when you don't really remember anything about a recent read, is it? This reads like a mash-up of several stories, with magical curses and a society tightly regulated by tradition handed down over the years. There's a quest of sorts, a race against time to repair things, and that's where this book ends: no, everything hasn't been resolved, but enough has changed to make the next book worth reading.

eARC provided by publisher.

Only Mostly Devastated; Sophie Gonzales

Only Mostly DevastatedOnly Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Grease in the modern age, with an LGBTQ twist. It's pretty well done, with characters who feel very real and relatable. Of course the plot follows the obvious lines - no surprises, no twists, nothing really new added.

eARC provided by publisher.

The Silvered Serpents; Roshani Chokshi

The Silvered Serpents (The Gilded Wolves, #2)The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is definitely not the book to read first - getting into the characters, the world and the plot requires having read Book One (The Guilded Wolves). And unfortunately, the ending feels as though the author just stopped there and will pick things up in Book Three. Having a more sensible transition between books would definitely help.

However, if you have read the first book, rejoining the crowd pretty easy. They're all in bad places following their adventures trying to retrieve an artifact (no spoilers!). Trying to get and keep the gang together isn't easy, but for this mission they've agreed to try albeit for their own selfish reasons. There are some gaps in how things work, and what they're doing but eventually they end up in Siberia in a palace that has been virtually abandoned by the ostracized Fallen House. Again, the world here seems to be based on a "oh, we need this? ok, we've got it" basis leading to some leaps of faith on the reader's part.

And, again, that ending. It's just too abrupt for my taste.

eARC provided by publisher.

Please See Us; Caitlin Mullen

Please See UsPlease See Us by Caitlin Mullen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The references to Atlantic City's heyday and what it's like now were a powerful reminder of how some cities have really declined (on the other hand, the veiled comments about a specific former casino owner and his bankruptcies were just fun). Told by someone escaping a disastrous relationship in New York and by a teenage clairvoyant with a storefront on the Boardwalk, as well as by the various Janes - the dead women lying in the salt march - this story of who is killing the Janes and whether Clara and Lily can find a friendship and possibly figure out what is causing Clara's visions. Not being afraid to explore the seedier side of life is what elevated this from a 2.5 to a 3 star.

eARC provided by publisher.

Dark and Deepest Red; Anna-Marie McLemore

Dark and Deepest RedDark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those combination books, part historical fiction, part modern magical realism, with three POVs. It would have been nicer if there'd only been two, but oh well.

In the history part, we're in 15th century Strasbourg at the start of their mysterious dancing madness. No one knows what started it, or why/how it ended and Strasbourg was not the only city afflicted. What we do know is that marginalized people are always blamed for the odd and inexpiable, and this case was no different. Living it through the eyes of one such person makes the terror all the more real.

In the modern part, Emil is a science-minded descendant of one of the people in Strasbourg and because his family is Romani, they're still marginalized. He's decided not to learn about his family's past to help him (and them) fit in better. He has known Rosella since childhood; she's another science fan trying to fit in, although her family is Latino. Their town has an annual haze that brings something magical (like cats) - this year, it's just red shoes. Rosella creates her own out of old scraps from shoes her grandparents had made, and then she seems to channel the same affliction as the people in Strasbourg all those years ago.

Having that mix of history and modern isn't new, nor is applying a magical cause to one of those mysteries. What makes this different and worth reading are the hints of what Romani life and culture were/are like - if only there'd been more.

eARC provided by publisher.

29 December 2019

Hugo and Josephine; Maria Gripe

Hugo and JosephineHugo and Josephine by Maria Gripe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Words can't explain how sorry I am that this is out of print. My first copy came as a brand new paperback in the early '70s and because that one is falling apart, this year I sprang for a hardback (a present to myself).

Meeting Josephine, who only wants to fit in and have friends (but recognizes that you can't be "almost like", you have to be "exactly like"), and Hugo, who just doesn't care, is to meet two perfectly realized kids that you've either been, want to be, or know. Their life at school and out of it are given such detail that you feel as though you're there, at lunch ordering everything on the menu or in the woods finding the perfect piece of wood to be whittled.

If you can get your hands on a copy, read it immediately. You can thank me later.

Darling Rose Gold; Stephanie Wrobel

Darling Rose GoldDarling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It was odd to read two books about Munchhausen's in one year (the earlier one being Grace is Gone). That book was told from the two POVs of people outside the relationship, while this one is told by Rose Gold (the daughter) and Patty (the mother). Both are delusional, trying to outwit the other while protesting their innocence and need for understanding from the outside world. Which one will win the struggle? There are clues sprinkled throughout, but even so, then ending is a bit of a surprise. Neither Rose Gold nor Patty are particularly likable, which may make this a difficult read for those who want someone to relate to or at least understand.

It did make me wonder why these two books were published this year - is there some trend coming? or was this mere coincidence?

eARC provided by publisher.

28 December 2019

Tweet Cute; Emma Lord

Tweet CuteTweet Cute by Emma Lord
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So very predictable but only if you've seen The Little Shop Around the Corner or You've Got Mail or She Loves Me. And if you haven't seen them, this might entice you to!

We have a formerly small deli that has become a national franchise and one day they create a grilled cheese sandwich that is incredibly close to that of a small, local deli. Of course this leads to a twitter war between the two; meanwhile, elsewhere online, the two main tweeters are corresponding on a school exclusive chat app. No guesses for what will happen. If only the recipes had been included (perhaps they will be in the final version?).

eARC provided by publisher.

Come Tumbling Down; Seanan McGuire

Come Tumbling Down (Wayward Children, #5)Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Please don't let this be the end of the series!

I love how these books are set in the same (or similar) worlds, with characters from one book appearing in another. There are times when that can get confusing, but the worlds the children find through their doors are equally confusing so it all works. Here we revisit Jack and Jill, and their world, with Kade, Cora, Sumi and Christopher tagging along. Can they overcome the challenge Jill poses and maintain the balance in that world? Will they return to the world of Eleanor West's school, or will they be stuck with Jack and Jill and the Doctor and the Master forever?

eARC provided by publisher.

27 December 2019

The Thief Knot; Kate Milford

The Thief Knot (Greenglass House #4)The Thief Knot by Kate Milford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you haven't read the previous Greenglass books, it's ok - this is almost a standalone. There's wordplay, adventure, some mystery and a bookstore as a headquarters for the Thief Knot (the name that Marzana gives her group of crime solvers). Mars' social anxiety is so well depicted that readers who sometimes feel equally awkward will realize that they're not so strange after all. There's also a good description of friendships that drift apart, and how that can make the one left behind feel. I want to spend more time in the Belowground and the mysterious glass-and-radioactive tea shop/museum! Charming addition to the series - more, please.

eARC provided by publisher.

A Castle in the Clouds; Kerstin Gier

A Castle in the CloudsA Castle in the Clouds by Kerstin Gier
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There's something a bit off about the hotel known as A Castle in the Clouds - there are so many secret passageways and wings, rooms that feel unused and a setting that is just begging for something to go wrong. Instead of a murder mystery, we get an adult version of the Winterhouse books, with a mystery of sorts, guests who don't quite match who they claim to be, and romance!

Perfect for a cozy winter read. Preferably with hot chocolate and cookies.

eARC provided by publisher.

A Heart So Fierce and Broken; Brigid Kemmerer

A Heart So Fierce and Broken (Cursebreakers, #2)A Heart So Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the marks of a good series are those where you can start reading after book one and fairly quickly pick up the world and the events. An even better series makes you immediately go get the previous book(s). This is one of those books.

We're in a version of the Beauty and the Beast story, post-broken curse. Instead of continuing to follow Rhen and Harper, we spend time (and share POVs) with Lia Mara and Grey as they travel through Emberfell and escape to Syhl Shallow, along with their small group of not-so-merry, not-so-men. There were some times when the plot dragged, and there are a few coincidences that were overly contrived, but otherwise this was a good addition - and will leave readers waiting for the next book.

Me? I'm planning to read A Curse So Dark and Lonely as soon as possible.

eARC provided by publisher.

I'm Not Dying with You Tonight; Kimberly Jones

I'm Not Dying with You TonightI'm Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are two authors, each contributing one character/POV to the story. One student who read this said that Lena and Campbell sound so different, and that was refreshing (as compared to other multiple POV stories, including those written by two authors). Agreed. It's unusual and greatly appreciated.

I had the pleasure of hearing the authors recently and they talked about their "safe word", a word (or phrase) they would use to open a conversation about things they didn't understand about the other's cultures or background. There are definitely moments when having that friend, and that safe word, would be helpful to all of us - knowing that there are questions we have, born out of genuine curiosity, that could be answered or that our friends have that we could answer.

Woven in Moonlight; Isabel Ibanez

Woven in MoonlightWoven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The world built here has moments of great detail, like the weaving that Ximena does (those animals!!) or the clothing, but there are large swaths that needed more: what daily life is like in the Keep and La Ciudad, what the history of the country (and the two main societies) is, and how the different magics work. Add to that the fight scenes that don't quite make sense, the fact that Ximena's life as the decoy should have trained her to have more control and possession, and the question of Who Was El Lobo is too easily solved and, well... On the other hand, the pseudo-Bolivian setting is unusual and that difference made me continue reading.

This is supposed to be a standalone, but would have benefited from either tightening up the plot or expanding it into a duology. The author says that the next book is set in the same world, so perhaps some of what was left out here will be added then.

eARC provided by publisher.

26 December 2019

Rayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee; Jeff Zenter

Rayne & Delilah's Midnite MatineeRayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The late night horror movie world and the hosts of the tv shows that showcase them are no cheesier than the one that Rayne and Delilah have created in their show, but their motivations might be different from those of Svengoolie or the Crypt Keeper. Rayne wants to work in television, and Delilah hopes that her long-gone father sees the increasingly syndicated show and wants to reconnect. There's a cute romance, friendship and a really creepy producer to contend with, and an ending that may surprise readers. I just wish there had been more of the movies (or a list of ones people should watch).

The Gone Dead; Chanelle Benz

The Gone DeadThe Gone Dead by Chanelle Benz
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sadly, very predictable. Billie's coming back to town 30 years after she left will, of course, uncover Big Dark Secrets and lead to Revelations. Will she learn more about her father? or will she get into so much trouble that she's run out of town before she figures out who he was and who she is? No guesses how that will go.

ARC provided by publisher.

How Quickly She Disappears; Raymond Fleischmann

How Quickly She DisappearsHow Quickly She Disappears by Raymond Fleischmann
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

How quickly this disappeared - DNF at 40%. A lot of promise, especially with the sun not going down and the mix of whites and Inuit, but the characters were so unlikable it didn't matter.

eARC provided by publisher.

Dark Truths; A.J. Cross

Dark TruthsDark Truths by A.J. Cross
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What exactly is a forensic psychologist? And how do the police work with one clearly damaged by the death of his own wife? That's what the team DI Watts gathers is wondering, as they try to solve the mystery of who the headless corpse is, and why there are three more bodies buried nearby, in a hillside overlooking a motorway and near to a jogging path. As the case uncovers more evidence and coincidences, the links begin resolve but putting the entire puzzle together waits until the end. Mysteries that aren't easy to guess before the detectives solve things are always welcome, and in this case the motive is also somewhat hidden. Points for that!

I liked the Watts/Judd pairing, but unless Taylor changes in the next book, it would appear that the author has chosen the wrong focus for the series.

eARC provided by publisher.

Under Water; J.L. Powers

Under WaterUnder Water by J.L. Powers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Do people in modern day South Africa still believe in witches and magic? Khosi, a sangoma (someone who can hear, and speak with, ancestors) is mourning the loss of her grandmother and trying to take care of her younger sister in the face of her aunt and uncle taking nearly all the family possessions, as is "customary" in their society. When violence erupts, she flees to safety by the coast, feeling called there by the water. Can she make a life there? Will she ever be a part of society, or will she always be considered different due to her gift?

Less magical realism and more an exploration of modern life intersecting with age-old beliefs and customs, Khosi's life will make readers think.

25 December 2019

A Death in the Rainforest; Don Kulick

A Death in the Rainforest: How a Language and a Way of Life Came to an End in Papua New GuineaA Death in the Rainforest: How a Language and a Way of Life Came to an End in Papua New Guinea by Don Kulick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

How does a language die? In this case, it's the spread of a pidgin language brought back to a small, off-the-map village by those working in larger towns and cities. Kulick's description of his life among the inhabitants of Gupan and how he studied their language (and its slow death) can some times be slow and repetitive, but ultimately it poses the question about the spread of some languages at the expense of the more vulnerable ones (Gupan has fewer than 200 villagers, and their language is spoken by no one else) is not just about the death of a language but also about the loss of a shared culture.

ARC provided by publisher.

Dead Inside; Cyndy Etler

Dead Inside: They Tried to Break Me. This Is the True Story of How I Survived.Dead Inside: They Tried to Break Me. This Is the True Story of How I Survived. by Cyndy Etler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's always surprising how little some parents do due diligence when it comes to who is taking care of their children, under what circumstances and what the outcome will be. Going behind the scenes, getting away from the tour, is critical. Cyndy's family didn't do that, and what happens to her at Straight Inc. sounds like something from a nightmare. Even more frightening is that these types of places still do exist.

ARC provided by publisher.

Grace is Gone; Emily Elgar

Grace Is GoneGrace Is Gone by Emily Elgar
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you don't want a spoiler, don't read the end matter.

Who killed Meg and what happened to Grace are the central questions - there are anomalies in the scene of the crime that pique the interest of Cara (their neighbor) and Jon (a disgraced journalist), so they set off to investigate. As they ask questions, more mysteries appear, like who Meg really is and why someone would take Grace. The answers may shock readers.

eARC provided by publisher.

The Old Success; Martha Grimes

The Old Success (Richard Jury, #25)The Old Success by Martha Grimes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The past few Richard Jury books have been less cozy than this one, and we spend more time in Long Pid with the villagers than we have recently. Aunt Agatha, Marshall and Diane haven't changed in the interim, nor has Melrose's ability to work with children. As far as the mystery goes, it would have been wonderful to spend more time in the Scilly Islands and dealing with the murders there. Plus, the answers to who and why are somewhat hidden from the reader, making it difficult to 'play along'. Still, I rounded up from 3 stars because the way Melrose deals with Agatha is worth the price of admission.

Rule; Ellen Goodlett

Rule (Rule, #1)Rule by Ellen Goodlett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Three girls, raised in different areas of the country and in different circumstances. Then, one day, they're brought to the capitol and told they are, in reality, the daughters of the King and possibly heirs to the crown. Which will ascend to the throne? There are three POVs here, one for each of the girls. There's also magic, and mystery, and the competition between them to convince their father and the kingdom that they deserve to rule.

It's not the best in this genre, but teens will still enjoy the differences between the girls and may find themselves rooting for one over another.

ARC provided by publisher.

24 December 2019

Joe Country; Mick Herron

Joe Country (Slough House #6)Joe Country by Mick Herron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This may be Book 6 in the series but it's only the second book I've read - more will be coming! The world that the "losers" in Slough House inhabit is one that feels very real, although the adventures that those slow horses get up to are clearly enhanced from what may have been real spy stories. One of my favorites, Catherine, describes the wine she buys with such love and attention to detail that it almost felt as though I could tastes each variety.

Perhaps Lamb's hold over the people in Regent's Park will be explained in earlier books, or perhaps that's to come. I can't wait to find out.

Unnatural Magic; C.M. Waggoner

Unnatural MagicUnnatural Magic by C.M. Waggoner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pretty standard story about magic, starting with a contest to get into the "best" magic academy that Onna loses (because she's a female), but she then travels and wins a place as the intern to the most gifted magician in their world. The next POVs are those of Jeckram, a failed soldier, and Tsira, an outcast-from-her-clan ogre; both are trying to find their place in this world. There's a mystery regarding who is killing trolls in Hexos, again pretty standard.

What made this stand out for me was the ogre society: their words for "wife" and "husband" don't apply to gender but to job description. Anyone can decide to take on either role, and they can switch at times. It's a great way to think about gender and societal roles (better than the Onna storyline deals with them). It could lead to some wonderful conversations with readers about their thoughts regarding those things.

eARC provided by publisher.

Strange Planet; Nathan W. Pyle

Strange PlanetStrange Planet by Nathan W. Pyle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you haven't been following the Strange Planet on Instagram or Twitter, well, this will make you start i m m e d i a t e l y. Very humorous.

Beirut Hellfire Society; Rawi Hage

Beirut Hellfire SocietyBeirut Hellfire Society by Rawi Hage
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got this ARC and put it aside, but that was a mistake. Set in 1980s Beirut, we follow Pavlov (nicknamed after his work with a dog) as he watches his undertaker father's work and slowly takes over that business. The descriptions of his family and others in his immediate neighborhood, as well as those who need his services as a member of the Hellfire Society, are worth the reading alone. There's also a great sense of what life in Beirut at that time was like, the danger and bombing almost becoming normal. It was disappointing that the Society's beliefs aren't more fleshed out (there is a discussion or two, but there could have been more, imvho).

ARC provided by publisher.

The Redbreast; Jo Nesbo

The Redbreast (Harry Hole, #3)The Redbreast by Jo Nesbø
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Early in the series, with Harry just meeting Rakel for the first time. More than that, we see the evolution of Hole's career as he maneuvers into working alone or with a few trusted colleagues. His drinking, ability to synthesize events and people, attention to details that tickle the back of his brain until they become a hunch and then a way forward, and irritability are all on display. There's a plot that refers to the past - the Nazi past, the Norwegians who served and past alliances/disputes - that, of course, refers to the present case. It was relatively easy to figure out who in the past was active in the present but there were still some twists and surprises.

23 December 2019

Deposing Nathan; Zach Smedly

Deposing NathanDeposing Nathan by Zack Smedley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nathan is being deposed because something happened to his friendship with Cam, something that left Nathan with a shard of ceramics in his stomach, bleeding heavily. Slowly we learn what happened before that moment, what Nathan's home life is like and how Cam disrupts and changes that life. There are hints about what really happened, but having it confirmed still left me feeling very sad for both boys.