20 March 2020

Sin Eater; Megan Campisi

Sin EaterSin Eater by Megan Campisi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I kept vacillating about this one, with a semi-alternate history of England (Queen Bethany instead of Queen Elizabeth I, for example) and the idea of someone being branded and sentenced to being a sin eater, forbidden to talk unless hearing the confession of the near dying. There are lists of sins and their equivalent foods to memorize, some of which are make May - a newly created sin eater - gag.

Somehow, May stumbles into a mystery: a dying woman confesses, but at her Eating there is an additional item. Then this happens again. Who is adding this public display of sin to the Eating? And why? May's investigation seems to revolve around luck more than real detective work. There's also a question of why she was sentenced to the sin eating but that appears to get short shrift. Having said that, the originality of the parallel world and her life redeemed this story and the ending provides a good sense of "there's more to her story but you can imagine that part on your own," something a little rare these days.

eARC provided by publisher.

19 March 2020

The Decievers; Margaret Peterson Haddix

Greystone Secrets #2: The DeceiversGreystone Secrets #2: The Deceivers by Margaret Peterson Haddix
3 of 5 stars

A decent second book in the series, with the four children trying to find their mothers while keeping Natalie's father in the dark. We learn more about this Other Earth filled with doubles of our Earth's people, especially the politics and the rulers. There are so many possibilities for Book 3 that I hesitate to speculate about the direction.

eARC provided by publisher.

18 March 2020

The Chosen Ones; Veronica Roth

Chosen Ones (The Chosen Ones, #1)Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The premise here is sort of like that of Ness' Some of Us Just Live Here (which talked about the random other people who just happen to live in the same town as a "chosen one"), except here are five Chosen Ones who are trying to get on with their lives ten years after the Big Event. My first thought was that this was the second in a series - it's not, it's the first - because the characters kept talking about "before" and "what I/we did when...". Despite that initial confusion, it was easy to get into the book. Then there was the secondary confusion of who exactly this book was written for. It reads like Roth's YA books, but it's been published as an adult book; perhaps it best falls into that so-called New Adult category.

As far as the plot goes, it's pretty much standard for the genre: there is someone or, in this case, five someones, who fulfills some prophecy to rid the world of some Big Bad (to use the Buffyverse term). Many people die in the effort, the Chosen have to deal with their guilt/emotions/difficulties and there is a victory. So what if they're not cuddly and loveable? They saved the world! And Sloane fits that description to a T. And then, on the tenth anniversary of the victory, she and the other Chosens get a bit of a wake-up. If this were a stand-alone, the ending would have been perfect. As it is, it suggests a "more of the same" series.

eARC provided by publisher.

The Body in the Garden; Katharine Schellman

The Body in the Garden (Lily Adler Mystery #1)The Body in the Garden by Katharine Schellman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Historical mysteries are not my favorite mystery subgenre, to be honest, but if I'm going to read one it helps if the mystery is engaging and the "detective" makes sense given the times. Lily's life in Regency England is one of some privilege, yet she doesn't have a happy family life (husband recently dead, birth family estranged, in-laws supportive but wanting to marry her off). Returning to London she finds friends from school and more recently ready to welcome her, as well as a dead body she feels obliged to investigate.

A decent start to a series that those who love Regency-based novels and historical mysteries will enjoy.

eARC provided by publisher.

12 March 2020

The Silence of Bones: June Hur

The Silence of BonesThe Silence of Bones by June Hur
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ok, first let's deal with the blurbage: there is no "ancient curse: 'May you live in interesting times.' " - it came from the British diplomatic corps in the 1800s. Now that that's off my chest, on with the review.

Usually I'm not a fan of historical romance, but if this developed into a series it would change my mind. To be honest, I don't know much about the late Joseon period in Korea and the history surrounding the backlash against Catholics by the police, under the direction of the ruling Dowager Queen. While there are really primitive methods of investigation, and torture is an approved technique for questioning, there is still the underlying question about who the killer is and why noses are being chopped off of the victims for Seol to solve. Perhaps "solve" is the wrong word, because she's just a female and just a servant, but Seol manages to manipulate things enough to get involved in the investigation. She's also trying to find her long-lost Older Brother (this reader figured it out long before the author lets us know what happens).

ARC provided by publisher.

11 March 2020

The Wolf of Cape Fen; Juliana Brandt

The Wolf of Cape FenThe Wolf of Cape Fen by Juliana Brandt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A town cut off from the rest of the world, kind of - the residents cannot leave, but visitors who are not there after First Frost can. There's something about wishes, or bargains, between residents and the Baron that Eliza wants to figure out, and how they tie into the Wolf and other strange events. Some of the mythology isn't as clear as it could have been, while Cape Fen itself treads the line between modern and something far older in a way that doesn't quite work. Still, I could see readers enjoying the book and hoping for a sequel.

ARC provided by publisher.

10 March 2020

Little Family; Ishmael Beah

Little FamilyLittle Family by Ishmael Beah
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Who knew that Ishmael Beah had become such a great writer? Apparently this is his sophomore fiction effort, and I'm definitely going to find his first novel and read that.

The idea of family and how we create our own, how they can mutate over time and sometimes reach a breaking point is wonderfully illustrated by the five members of this "little family" and their life together. We never learn their back stories because they've never told each other about "before", although they hint at it. There's also a serious distance between classes illustrated, with Khoudi trying to bridge that distance (successfully? perhaps) and causing a rift in the family. The family's story is told with sensitivity and care, with just enough detail to let our imaginations fill in important blanks (like the ending).

ARC provided by publisher.

09 March 2020

The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires; Grady Hendrix

The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying VampiresThe Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There were some moments early on when I thought that this would be the prefect mix of humor and horror (a Jude the Obscure joke was the clue) but then, well... it didn't quite live up to that promise. It's not even really Southern Gothic horror, and it's not quite a vampire slaying group, although it does try to do both. The book group that Kitty. Patty, Grace, Maryellen and Slick form is tight knit and supportive, while their husbands are sexists Southerners who embrace golf and the Citadel, and a man's word and honor are paramount. Of course the newbie in the neighborhood , James, is going to help create even tighter bonds between the women and tighter bonds between the men... but you just know that something isn't Quite Right. There are also race issues, with the Book Club trying to help Patty do something about the black children disappearing from her cleaner's neighborhood and, well, it doesn't quite go the way it's supposed to.

The characters are very much people of their time (the 1980s) so attitudes and responses reflect that era. Anyone wanting different, more modern, versions, will be disappointed.

eARC provided by publisher.

04 March 2020

The Midnight Lie; Marie Rutkoski

The Midnight Lie (The Midnight Lie, #1)The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

We know the world... mostly. A new island, one that believes it has always been there, that the society has always existed as it is, and one that seemingly doesn't exist to others in the world we've previously explored in The Winner's Curse series.

Obviously, none of the above aren't true and over the course of the book, as we follow Nirrim and Sid in their adventures, much of the history Herrath becomes clear. And because this is the first of a duology (per the author) there are Questions Left Unanswered at a critical moment. What makes this a little deeper than many in this genre are the questions that get raised about relationships and power, with Nirrim serving as our surrogate for three different types of relationships (nicely realistic, despite the world in which they're set).

eARC provided by publisher.

Wicked As You Wish; Rin Chupeco

Wicked As You Wish (A Hundred Names for Magic, #1)Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Sorry, I just couldn't. After a great start (seriously, that OzCorp was named after the Nome King?!), there were too many moments when the world needed better building/explanation, and the fight scenes made less sense and went on far too long. DNF at 35%

eARC provided by publisher.

The Glass Hotel; Emily St. John Mandel

The Glass HotelThe Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I so wished we'd spent less time with some of the secondary characters and more with Vincent, Paul and Jonathan. As the book starts, readers will think they're getting the story of a messed-up man/boy, Paul, and his relationships with people and music... then they'll think it's about his step-sister, Vincent. The titular hotel plays an important role, but is not front-and-center for the majority of the book, although one could argue that there are some analogies that could be made between "glass houses" and "glass hotels". It also would have helped to a little more clearly anchor the opening to Vincent's life, but the tease of what we will be reading does help frame the rest of the book.

eARC provided by publisher.

03 March 2020

The Seven Endless Forests; April Genevieve Tucholke

The Seven Endless ForestsThe Seven Endless Forests by April Genevieve Tucholke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This lived up to the Boneless Mercies, whew!

Set in the same world, apparently many years later, we have a version of the King Arthur story that adds some interesting, vaguely Norse bits. There's also a quest that has Tolkein-esque overtones - disparate friends or acquaintances forming a band to make the trek towards revenge and a sword. For me, there were times I wanted to spend more time at a location or with a people and others when I wanted us to move along faster, sometimes at the same time. For example, more about the tree towns but less about the songs the Bards sing while in the tavern. I also wasn't sure that all the Arthur references needed to be there, while we needed a bit more about the wolves to make them truly believable. The ending wrapped things up a little too quickly, perhaps to forestall the need for a sequel.

My sense is that that the author is setting this up in the same way that Cashore did the Graceling world, and I can't wait to see what's next.

eARC provided by publisher.

The Silent Treatment; Abbie Greaves

The Silent TreatmentThe Silent Treatment by Abbie Greaves
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sadly, a Fates and Furies wannabe, with a Deep Dark Secret dividing the two main characters. Getting both sides of the story only helped somewhat (using Maggie's diary as a framing device while continuing to focus on Frank was a poor choice, imvho).

eARC provided by publisher.

02 March 2020

This is My Brain in Love; I.W. Gregorio

This is My Brain in LoveThis is My Brain in Love by I.W. Gregorio
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is essentially an average YA romance but I'm giving an extra star because it's set in my home city. There were two points I'd quibble with but nothing that people not from the area wouldn't know, and there are places mentioned that certainly prove the author grew up there! When I told my father about the premise, his first comment was that no, Chinese restaurants do not do well there and applauded the realism.

The discussion of teen depression is very well done, showing it can manifest in different ways and that coping by yourself isn't always the best policy. I particularly loved the author's inclusion of her story and resources at the back (there are times, and this is one of them, when I wish that were at the start of the book not after!).

ARC provided by publisher.

Have You Seen Me? Kate White

Have You Seen Me?Have You Seen Me? by Kate White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At first I thought this was going to be something like Before I Go To Sleep but there's much more to it: childhood trauma, marital secrets, even murder. How Ally attempts to put together the pieces of her missing days while returning to a semblance of a "normal" life is done realistically, even though her life is very much one of privilege that most readers wouldn't be able to emulate. Even her intern feels very real! There is one exception, in which the key to her fugue state is revealed, where it felt less realistic than any other moment. If that part had been done a little differently, this could have been a 5-star but as it is there are many people I know will enjoy this read.

ARC provided by publisher.

27 February 2020

The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home; Joseph Fink

The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home (Welcome to Night Vale, #3)The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home by Joseph Fink
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Craig's life has been watched over (and sometimes "improved") by the title character, who is not just faceless but nameless. She's nameless as we follow her life from pampered daughter living on her family estate on the Mediterranean coast, through a life dedicated to revenge against her father's murder(s), to her life(?) as the Faceless Old Woman. We get her life's story interspersed with her watching and helping Craig and honestly, more of the Craig interactions and less of the life stuff would have been far better. The revenge plot is really stretched out, getting a little boring and making readers constantly try to calculate her age and length of events. Her gang (Andre, Rebekah and Lora) are also glossed over and more fully fleshing them out would also have made this stronger.

eARC provided by publisher.

26 February 2020

The Last Human; Zack Jordan

The Last HumanThe Last Human by Zack Jordan
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

A friend I trust for recommendations read the eARC and was so excited, I had to read it, too. Sadly, my response isn't as positive. Sarya is the adopted Daughter of Widow, officially classified as barely intelligent, destined to living a bare-bones life. In reality she's Human, the Last Human, and can't possibly exist in this Networked world. Alternating between Sarya's story and the introduction to the Network (which sounds a little like the Borg) the story has some really interesting things that get dropped in favor of moving quickly on to a new plot point. Example? What is a Widow? Example? What was Sarya's life like before the fated field trip? 30% through, it didn't feel as thought there was a reason to care.

eARC provided by publisher.

Unfollow Me; Charlotte Duckworth

Unfollow MeUnfollow Me by Charlotte Duckworth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The title isn't representative of the actual book, which may confuse readers. Having said that... there are three voices we hear from, Yvonne, Lily and Henry, rotating through as the mystery of mommy influencer Violet's complete disappearance from her social media feeds unfolds. Readers of the this genre will know that things are not going to be as easy to figure out as might be in a mystery book, and there are going to be unreliable narrators and facts. Without spoilers, I can say that I was able to identify who early on - there is one twist surrounding Violet's disappearance that I did not see coming. And, as with the best of these books, there's a sense that this could actually happen.

eARC provided by publisher.

25 February 2020

Deeplight; Frances Hardinge

DeeplightDeeplight by Frances Hardinge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are gods in this world, gods who are vast creatures living in the Undersea, who sometimes kill people; there are also monks who can talk to those gods. But years ago, there was a Cataclysm and the gods are now dead - changing the world. Hark and his protector-friend Jelt live scheme to scheme, until one day Hark gets caught and sentenced to an indentured servitude on an island taking care of those monks and working for a scientist studying the gods and the godware left behind. Despite trying to keep to the rules, Hark is drawn back into that scheming life by Jelt; after they end up with a pulsing orb of godware and embark on an incredibly dangerous scheme.

It's an incredible world that the author has created and the stories of the gods feel ancient. Hank and Jelt's relationship is so real, with Hank growing throughout the book into a character you'd like to meet sometime. I only wish we'd spent more time with the god stories, less time with the scheme and aftermath.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter; Aaron Reynolds

The Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex DexterThe Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter by Aaron Reynolds
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Poor Rex. He really, really, really (did I say really?) wants a pet dog. His parents, however, are unconvinced he's mature enough to take care of one and so, instead of a dog, they give him a chicken. Yep, a chicken. Who - in what can only be called a freak accident - gets run over by a steamroller. Just as Rex is being cursed by a mechanical Devil. And so his adventure begins, with the ghost of his birthday chicken as a hangout buddy.

Very funny, perfect for middle grade readers who want humor mixed with something a little... different.

ARC provided by publisher.

24 February 2020

Kent State; Deborah Wiles

Kent StateKent State by Deborah Wiles
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Note: this is a novel in verse. Which means that many of my students won't read it, because poetry is "work" and without knowing the story behind the poems, they won't bother. It's too bad, because Kent State would be a great story for them to read (and research).

ARC provided by publisher.

Sisters Grimm; Menna van Praag

The Sisters GrimmThe Sisters Grimm by Menna van Praag
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not sure how Wilhelm Grimm ended up being a god/monster of sorts, but here we are. He has fathered thousands of girls who can visit Everwhere in their dreams until they are 13, and then they lose that privilege until their 18th birthday, at which point they either chose to become dark (like Daddy) or light (and then fight for their lives against Grimm's soldiers). Told from the POV of four of his daughters as they close in on their 18th birthday, trying to figure out who they are and their possible connection, as well as the POV of Leo, one of Grimm's hunters, this book also mixes timelines, creating momentary difficulty figuring out who and when the story is. It also feels as though the author has boxed herself in with the 18th birthday - the lives Goldie, Bea, Scarlett and Liya lead don't feel like 17-year-olds, more like early 20s.

Having said that, the world of Everwhere, Leo and the girls is one that does adhere to the Grimm mantra of not everything being sweetness and light in life, and sometimes happy endings aren't easy to come by.

ARC provided by publisher.

20 February 2020

We Are the Wildcats; Siobhan Vivian

We Are the WildcatsWe Are the Wildcats by Siobhan Vivian
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Girl Power! I've worked in schools where a girls sports team is the better, more beloved team so that part wasn't a stretch. Nor was the charismatic, inspirational Coach who creates a cult around His Team. That was all welcome, and this book definitely passes the Bechdel test. The way the girls bond and share responsibility for each other was very empowering and inspiring. It was also great to see how they took charge of their own destiny - realizing that something wasn't quite right with... no spoilers. There were times when I worried it wasn't going to deal with the troubling aspects, but by the end it was all - too quickly, in my opinion - good.

ARC provided by publisher.

19 February 2020

Alice by Heart; Steven Sater

Alice by HeartAlice by Heart by Steven Sater
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'd expected - hoped for - more of the Alice and less of the WWII Tube evacuations. Even the flashback parts, with Alice and Alfred as children bonding over, and memorizing, the Carroll books, felt less magical than anticipated. This is a novelization of a Broadway musical, so perhaps those aspects are clearly shown in the set and actions and didn't translate well to book format?

The Sea of Lost Girls; Carol Goodman

The Sea of Lost GirlsThe Sea of Lost Girls by Carol Goodman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Carol really loves the boarding school setting, doesn't she? Here we're in Maine, on the coast, at a school with a Past. Students love to talk about the Lost Girls legends, a group of girls who over the years have gone missing and died out on an outcropping of rock. When a current student dies there, though, possibly murdered, well... Of course deep secrets are going to come out and of course the life of the school will never be the same.

I wondered if some of this was inspired by the spate of revelations about sexual misconduct at various boarding schools, with the "pass the trash" response by many schools (sweeping it under the rug is the other response). How amends are made, or not, also comes into play. However, that's all sort of glossed over here, poking up when it serves a plot point and not as a major component.

ARC provided by publisher.

18 February 2020

Salty, Bitter, Sweet; Mayra Cuevas

Salty, Bitter, SweetSalty, Bitter, Sweet by Mayra Cuevas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Maybe having read With the Fire on High before this made me want something a bit more than a cooking-rom com. What I got was definitely a YA romance, set in France and almost a version of TV's Chopped or MasterChef. The cooking, which is supposedly such a huge part of the plot, doesn't include as much description as would be helpful (for example, more about the omelet disaster or the art of chopping). Instead there's more about the contestants and the relationships, which just sound average for the genre.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Bramble and the Rose; Tom Bouman

The Bramble and the Rose (Henry Farrell #3)The Bramble and the Rose by Tom Bouman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Very quick read, more like a mystery novella than a full mystery. Despite this being set near the NY/PA border, it has a much more wild feel, like something set in the backwoods down South or in the mountain West. The crime here revolves around a headless man found in a near swamp, starting things off with the Who and Why in place. There's lots of sitting in the swamp, guns, laconic woodsmen, feuds and fighting over investigative territory... plus a bear.

I'm not sure that fleshing this out into a full-length would have worked better. The pacing is, by necessity, fast, leading to an ending that makes sense but needed something to make it a four star.

ARC provided by publisher.

17 February 2020

The June Boys; Courtney C. Stevens

The June BoysThe June Boys by Courtney C. Stevens
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Definitely creepy and a bit disturbing: the missing boys aren't killed, aren't molested or tortured, they're just held for thirteen months and then released. Some, apparently, don't even mind the Welder's having taken care of them. So, why? That part isn't as clear as the time Aul spends under the care of the Welder, or the way Thea and her friends find their lives broken by his disappearance. Thea's father is another disturbing part, with his obsession about the castle and virtual disappearance from Thea's life. This will be a great entry point for YA readers into the world of the mystery/thriller.

ARC provided by publisher.

Of Curses and Kisses; Sandhya Menon

Of Curses and Kisses (St. Rosetta's Academy, #1)Of Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There's nothing wrong with this, but nothing wonderful either. Supposedly this is based on Beauty and the Beast but it feels more like the tale was shoehorned onto a YA romance more than anything. Also, two POVs? Both Grey and Jaya sound exactly alike, so why bother? Hearing more about the curse, more about Isha's life at the school, more about the Indian side of things would have really strengthened this. Having said all that, the way the two main characters connect felt real, and the friendships between the students (as well as the rivalries) were also very realistic, once you get behind the elite setting and lives.

eARC provided by publisher.

13 February 2020

Privilege; Mary Adkins

PrivilegePrivilege by Mary Adkins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Three similar-sounding POVs, two students at Carter University and one a worker there, whose lives intertwine around possible rape accusation. Some of the issues around the rape were well-handled, including the question "was this a rape?" (and if so, why a second date?); privilege and power are also depicted with a degree of skill. Where this falls down is that the university is based on a real one but is given a pseudonym, while one character goes to Miss Porter's School and gets important details wrong (example? there are more than two black girls there. example? there is no eighth grade). Either make both schools "fake" or both real, but if you're going to do the latter get the facts right.

ARC provided by publisher.

12 February 2020

A Love Hate Thing; Whitney D. Grandison

A Love Hate ThingA Love Hate Thing by Whitney D. Grandison
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

When you have what's essentially The O.C. with a racial twist told from two POVs, one a poor black boy and the other a rich white girl, that sound exactly the same, there needs to be something good to bring readers in. Sadly, no. DNF.

ARC provided by publisher.

Investigators; John Patrick Green

InvestigatorsInvestigators by John Patrick Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very cute graphic novel about two alligators (Mango and Brash) who are private eyes. What I'm wondering is whether or not the target reader is going to find this as funny as adults are (like the Mango and Brash names).

ARC provided by publisher.

11 February 2020

Most Likely; Sarah Watson

Most Likely (Most Likely, #1)Most Likely by Sarah Watson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Four friends, all with interesting backstories, making their way through their senior years of high school. There are boys, college applications, schoolwork, parents and expectations to deal with, and the friendship ebbs and flows with all that. Much of this is told in flashback, with the book opening and closing with the swearing in as President one of the friends. Which one and how she ended up with her husband may even surprise readers. In the next book, I wonder if we'll stick with these friends as they go through college or if we'll meet four new girls. Either way, I'll be reading.

ARC provided by publisher.

This Train is Being Held; Ismee Amiel Williams

This Train Is Being HeldThis Train Is Being Held by Ismée Amiel Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bunhead meets basketball guy on the NYC subway. Loved the romance and the way we were brought into the hardships of their lives more than obsessing about their ballet/sports (although those are presented very realistically). I also appreciated the way the Spanish was integrated without the bothersome translations - no "Adios mama, he said, as we said goodbye to his mother" stuff here!

ARC provided by publisher.

10 February 2020

Ink in the Blood; Kim Smejkal

Ink in the Blood (Ink in The Blood, #1)Ink in the Blood by Kim Smejkal
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It felt as if I'd read this before, in other books. Beyond that, the religion upon which everything is supposed to be based was so vague that it almost didn't matter. Apparently there are Inklings who transcribe the words (or warnings, or something) that they're given by misticos who channel the words of the Divine. That transcription takes the form of tattoos they do on themselves and then transfer to the intended recipient - more on that, please. More on the tenors. More about the magic in the Rabble Mob. More of the tales the Mobs tell in their acts. More of the Plague Doctor. And then there was the ending, which felt so rushed after the slow build of Celia and Anya's escape and travels with the Mob. All told, rounded up from 2.5 stars.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Other Mrs.; Mary Kubica

The Other Mrs.The Other Mrs. by Mary Kubica
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Maybe I'm reading too many of these types of books or maybe the quality is getting lower, but the Big Twist was so easy to figure out. The sense of this being in Maine was also lost - we could have been any where, and it would have been so easy to make the island play a role in creating a creepier atmosphere.

ARC provided by publisher.

06 February 2020

The Garden of Bewitchment; Catherine Cavendish

The Garden of BewitchmentThe Garden of Bewitchment by Catherine Cavendish
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Historical fiction mixed with magical realism, plus a Bronte obsession? Ok. I'll bite. To be honest, the blurb made me hope for an adultish version of Octagon Magic (one of my favorite childhood books) - this doesn't quite meet that, but there are some interesting quirks. Like who Matthew is, and what he wants. Like the appearance of the house/game, and the gardens. Oddly, the middle section was better than the opening or the ending.

eARC provided by publisher.

05 February 2020

Rick; Alex Gino

RickRick by Alex Gino
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Unlike George this seems aimed at the appropriate age group and it's one I'm eager to share with my middle grade students. Rick's quandary surrounding who he is is one that they will definitely relate to, especially his problems with his friendship with Jake. Learning more about why he might not fit neatly into an assigned box will also be relatable to them.

Two quibbles: one is how easily Rick deals with Melissa's pronouns, never making a mistake (no spoilers beyond that). The second is QUILTBAG+. Despite the author's note, and while I do understand that there are more possibilities than LGBT, one friend commented that it's starting to feel like we should just use ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse; Charlie Mackesy

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the HorseThe Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm not usually a fan of what I'll call Literary Twee, but at the time I read this it was the perfect read. Clearly the illustrator is a fan of Ernest Shepherd and his introduction to the book made me laugh; the aphorisms and so-called plot made me glad that it was a short - and sweet book.

Copy provided by publisher.

04 February 2020

After Me Comes the Flood; Sarah Perry

After Me Comes the FloodAfter Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an odd book - what were the people doing at the house? why did they seem to know who John is and why he's there? It's never quite clear why John decides to leave London (we're given some idea, but why then?) or what will happen after? The summer and the effect of all the heat really give an additional haze to the characters and the plot.

After the Essex Serpent, this slim volume carries a bigger punch than the larger book but a few days later it faded easily.

ARC provided by publisher.

No True Believers; Rabiah York Lumbard

No True BelieversNo True Believers by Rabiah York Lumbard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

At times this was difficult to read because of the realness of the reactions of the characters to the "threat" posed by Salma and Amir, and the way in which white supremacists can appear relatively normal and can act less hate-filled than they are. And those schoolmates, with the points system, was very realistic. Not just ripped from the headlines, but ripped from the national moment in which we find ourselves. The ending however, fueled by Salma's hacker skills and a too convenient twist, wasn't as good as the start. It would have been a better conclusion without so much stuff going on (either no hospital, or no cab rides, or no EDS, etc.).

eARC provided by publisher.

03 February 2020

The Shadows Between Us; Tricia Levenseller

The Shadows Between UsThe Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If this is a standalone, bravo; if it's the start to a series, that's ok too. Alessandra's rather cold-hearted plans for her future and her willingness to buck societal norms make her a strong, sexually free woman who could be a good(ish) role model for female readers. That she's intelligent and not interested in hiding it as well as comfortable in her own skin is a huge point in her favor. Kallais' ability to see through her behavior to the friendship/partnership they could have is a plus as well. However, all the balls, the over-the-top plotting between characters and the rushed ending all made me want an editor to step in.

eARC provided by publisher.

Firewatching; Russ Thomas

FirewatchingFirewatching by Russ Thomas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wonder if this is going to be a series and we'll finally get the story behind Adam's scar. As a debut, it feels as though some of it assumes we've read earlier books (like the Tyler/Jordan connection) and at others it's clear that we're at the start of something. Mystery-wise, there was too much reliance on the website/blog that the Firewatch wrote (and omg those digressions into historical fires! too long, imvho) when more detecting could have been helpful. As for the fire motif, it was decent but just a little overdone towards the end.

eARC provided by publisher.

24 January 2020

Girls with Razor Hearts; Suzanne Young

Girls with Razor Hearts (Girls with Sharp Sticks, #2)Girls with Razor Hearts by Suzanne Young
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

At first I thought I'd read this book before but I hadn't. So obviously getting into the world of this series wasn't difficult. That wasn't a problem but the incredibly high level of misogyny was. There was a semi-decent male, but he's not part of the action for much of the book. The males that do have "starring" roles are just about every girl's nightmare, and because these girls are not human there are no lessons that could be used by readers. Plus, the girls become misandrists, which isn't helpful either. Very disappointing.

eARC provided by publisher.

The Animals at Lockwood Manor; Jane Healey

The Animals at Lockwood ManorThe Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm not sure what to make of this historical fiction/gothic cross - there are times when I thought it was going in one direction then it was clear that it wasn't. In London, during the time running up to the Blitz, many cultural institutions were scrambling to protect their exhibits. Hetty, a disappointment to her highborn parents, works for a natural history museum and is tapped to take the stuffed animals to Lockwood Manor. Lockwood has agreed to host them (probably to avoid being turned into a hospital or housing for evacuees) but it's clear that Lord Lockwood finds all this an interruption to his gentleman's way of life. There are restrictions and rules, and the frail daughter of the house for Hetty to deal with... how will it end? will she figure out what's going on with the missing animals or the screaming?

eARC provided by publisher.

23 January 2020

Witches of Ash and Ruin; E. Latimer

Witches of Ash and RuinWitches of Ash and Ruin by E. Latimer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a town with a strong church presence, there is a coven and some others practicing witchcraft at a lower level. Dayna is the daughter of one of the church's leaders, but she's also a witchling waiting to ascend to her powers. So of course when people start dying in a fashion that clearly indicates witchcraft, she and her coven are involved. And then a former member of the coven, someone who fled and formed a new one, returns. Can the two combined groups figure out who is trying to kill witches before they end up dead themselves?

So far, so normal. The addition of the Celtic gods is a nice touch, as is the way the coven has witchlings under training. And the relationships between the women and Dayna's relationships with Meiner, Reagan and Samuel are really well done. That's all the good. The iffy was that this didn't feel different than any other book in this genre outside those good things.

eARC provided by publisher.

22 January 2020

The Woman in the Mirror; Rebecca James

The Woman in the MirrorThe Woman in the Mirror by Rebecca James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had so hoped for more gothic weirdness than I got here. The lives of the people in Winterborne, from the de Greys to their staff and nannies, are isolated and fraught with mysterious deaths, something that American Rachel doesn't know when she inherits the deserted house. Compelled to find her roots (she was adopted), she travels to England and the ends of Cornwall to explore the house and consider selling it, but then.. well... love with a local and weird events in the house start to happen. All this parallels the story of Alice, the last nanny in the de Grey household, and the things that happen to her that landed her in an insane asylum. And then there's the overbearing American boyfriend/booty call who tries to help Rachel. Of course all the threads come together in unsurprising place. As I said, the gothic overtones were more undertones and the rest was more rich family saga.

eARC provided by publisher.

The Iron Will of Genie Lo; F. E. Yee

The Iron Will of Genie Lo (The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, #2)The Iron Will of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's been many years since I read Journey to the West so I didn't remember exactly what the Monkey King (aka Genie's boyfriend Quentin) could do, nor did I remember much about the Jade Emperor. It didn't matter. Just like it didn't really matter that I hadn't read the first book. There are enough context clues given to help readers figure out what's going on, which is always great. Genie's voice is such a modern voice, with the right mix of sarcasm and maturity a high school senior should have. That many of the Chinese mythological beings also had that mix was a little disappointing, though. The quest to rid the world of an Extremely Evil Thing takes Genie, Quentin and a few others into parallel planes of existence and Yee does a great job of not just imagining a world that could be earth but isn't, but giving us a new experience of what a world could be.

The ending was nearly perfect, but disappointing in that it was not just the ending for the book but for this series (is two books a series?).

eARC provided by publisher.

21 January 2020

Perfect Little Children; Sophie Hannah

Perfect Little ChildrenPerfect Little Children by Sophie Hannah
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Florida ending didn't work for me - too rushed, too filled with coincidence, too... something. Before that, though, the question of whether Beth was going out of her mind or whether there was something Very Wrong with former friend Flora Braid's life was a real one. I'm not sure that I would have gone as far as she did to figure things out, and I know that there would be no one like Don supporting me on this (a note that rang a little false, because he should have been far less supportive!). Zannah, on the other hand, was a very enjoyable addition. Who wouldn't want to get involved at the risk of not doing well on a majorly important test? Having said that, the digression into the history teacher's racism felt like a waste of pages, even if it did begin to help Beth figure out a rationale for what was going on. Because of that, and the ending, this was less suspenseful than it could have been

eARC provided by publisher.

The House in the Cerulean Sea; T.J. Klune

The House in the Cerulean SeaThe House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is being published as an adult book, but my hope is that because it's a Tor book younger readers find it as well (2021 Alex Committee, are you listening??)

As so many of these stories start out, Linus is a faceless cog in a government agency, noted mostly for his adherence to the Rules and Regulations. Outside work, he's one of those "have no life" types, going home to his hissing cat and his oldies records. However, that quality makes him the perfect candidate to evaluate an orphanage for extremely "different" children, because we're in a world where magical creatures exist and are registered, frequently placed in orphanages. So these children must be really, really different, right? And they are. No surprise, Linus' love of the Rules and Regulations are going to come under attack, as is his ability to be one of those faceless, life-less cogs.

I can't tell whether the author is American or not, but reading the names Lucy and Linus in close proximity just made me giggle. Beyond that, there is genuine humor here and real creativity, like Chauncey, the... whatever he is... who just wants to be a bellboy. Or Talia, the gnome with an affinity for digging holes in which to bury visitors. Even Merle, the ferry owner, has his moments, especially with pricing.

It's only January, but I can see this being one of my favorite books of the year.

eARC provided by publisher.