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.

14 January 2020

Witerborne Home for Vengeance and Valor; Ally Carter

Winterborne Home for Vengeance and ValorWinterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor by Ally Carter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There's a lot of love at my school for the Mysterious Benedict Society books, and this will fit right into that love. Starting with April, and her conviction that her mother was coming back for her, and moving through Violet, Tim, Sadie and Colin to Uncle Evert (among others) there is someone for everyone. How these orphans, shunted through the system, overcome their natural distancing behaviors and become a team will thrill them. And Sadie's Rube Goldbergian inventions are delightful. The only thing that could have made this even better for me would have been greater description of Winterborne House. Oh wait - hearing that this is the start of a series (and seriously, with that ending, how can it not be?).

eARC provided by publisher.

House of Trelawney; Hanna Mary Rothschild

House of TrelawneyHouse of Trelawney by Hannah Mary Rothschild
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While reading this I wanted so much more about the Trelawney house and grounds beyond the rotting aspects, and the three or four ballrooms. More about Clarissa and her ideas about what's proper and what's not. More about Ayesha's mother's directions to Ayesha. Less padding about insects. Less intricacies of the banking meltdown in 2008. And an ending that didn't make me think of the Soprano's ending - or maybe my eARC was missing a final chapter that tied the ends together? On the plus side, the English class system is really depicted well, and Blaze's life choices make more sense than Kitto's. There are a lot of hints and tangents that we begin to explore and then drop that it was a little frustrating to read.

eARC provided by publisher.

13 January 2020

The Secret Country; Pamela Dean

The Secret Country (The Secret Country, #1)The Secret Country by Pamela Dean
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've read so many books and series about children going through a door of some sort, finding a new country and spending time there. And there are many other stories about children creating their own worlds, which usually don't manage to manifest in any way. This book combines those two, with one very interesting twist: the country doesn't always conform to the way the children imagined it would (or set it up to function).

That twist creates tensions that the children don't fully understand and adds to their problems fitting in the Secret Country (like when trying to fence expertly while not ever really having been taught, or realizing they're shorter than their characters are supposed to be). Despite all that, there is a lot of padding here and things that feel a little thrown in "because" rather than organically flowing from either the country or the children's stories. Add to that a few characters that are completely two-dimensional and this got rounded up from 3.5.

Rumor has it that Book 2 is better, so stay tuned.

The Rapture; Claire McGlasson

The RaptureThe Rapture by Claire McGlasson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Based on a real group in the 1920s (well, they were around longer and still somewhat exists as a Charitable Trust), this story about Dilys and her relationships with Octavia, her brother, the Panacea Society and her new friend Grace, shows us how complicated lives back then could be. There is one thing about Dilys that she keeps hidden from Grace and readers for a while, but the clues are there; less hidden are the mental issues that are clearly there for Dilys and Octavia. As always with groups like this, I wonder how people can fall that deeply into belief and cultish behavior.

09 January 2020

The Wayward Girls; Amanda Mason

The Wayward GirlsThe Wayward Girls by Amanda Mason
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What happens in haunted houses that makes them haunted? And can outside researchers determine what that was, years after the fact? That's the premise here - a house that had Something Happen in it years earlier, and a group of determined researchers looking for the answers. Told in two timelines we got the story of Loo and Bee and what happened to drive the family out of their home, and then the modern day investigation. Back in the 70s, there was another group doing the investigation and they didn't quite provide answers. Plus, can what answers they did get be verified?

Obviously, there are twists to be discovered and secrets to be uncovered. One twist is probably not going to surprise readers but the others just might (one certainly surprised me).

Oh My Gods; Alexandra Sheppard

Oh My GodsOh My Gods by Alexandra Sheppard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a perfect read for those who have read the Percy Jackson series (and others like it) and who also like romance or realistic fiction. Rather than having a Quest or trying to save the world or protect others, we have the fairly average Helen, starting in a new school, trying to make new friends (and maybe a boyfriend), and - most importantly - trying to keep her family life a secret. First rule of being an immortal? Don't draw attention to your being immortal. And Helen lives with Zeus and Aphrodite, with Eros and Apollo dropping in frequently, so life gets just a bit complicated.

This is probably a one-off, but OMG I'd love it to be a series.

08 January 2020

A Curse So Dark and Lonely; Brigid Kemmerer

A Curse So Dark and Lonely (Cursebreakers, #1)A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Having read Book 2 first, reading book 1 filled in the backstory and answered a few questions (like the whole Lilith thing and what was going on with Syhl Shallow). With Harper as the focus, I could really see what many of the teens at the Teen Feedback session for Best Books for Young Adults were talking about - that having a main character with cerebral palsy who doesn't see it as a handicap but merely a part of who she is was refreshing and inspirational. They really seemed to appreciate that this wasn't one of those Important Messages but simply part of the plot.

The Kingdom of Back; Marie Lu

The Kingdom of BackThe Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was wondering how Lu was going to work her literary magic on historical fiction but she does! And what is it with really famous creative adults and their childhood fictional worlds? We have the Brontes and Gondal, or C.S. Lewis and Boxen, and now the Mozarts and the Kingdom of Back. Seriously, that's a world that Nannerl created for Amadeus (known as Wolferl) that he also added to. Using Nannerl's real life as the context for expanding on that world, filled with the wonder Lu brings to her other books, is a great way to bring historical fiction to life in a way that will appeal to lovers of fantasy fiction.

eARC provided by publisher.

07 January 2020

The Quaker; Liam McIlvanney

The Quaker (Duncan McCormack #1)The Quaker by Liam McIlvanney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

1960s Glasgow, with a serial killer on the loose - three kills in one year, but no real leads. So Our Hero is brought in to help assess the team's progress and make suggestions. You can imagine how well that goes. McCormack is a very dedicated member of the polis and rather single-minded. It will be interesting to see how he grows in the next book. My quibble is that there's this name, The Quaker, for the murderer, but how exactly hat name got attached is not quite clear. It's almost as though the author edited something out, or assumed that we readers could figure it out before it's mentioned in the text. Or maybe I missed something earlier?

Rose, Interrupted; Patrice Lawrence

Rose, InterruptedRose, Interrupted by Patrice Lawrence
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When you're raised in a strict religious cult, but your mother occasionally sneaks reading material and toys that are not approved, it's not surprising that you'll get kicked out. Rose and her brother Rudder are now trying to figure out how the rest of us live - what the mores are, how to interact with people who aren't as conversant with the Bible as they are and who grew up with food and popular culture that they've completely missed out on. It's easy to see how they can make missteps, some really serious ones. Getting out of those mistakes takes courage, and while their background might not be familiar to readers the situation Rose, and then Rudder, find themselves in will be very familiar.

06 January 2020

The Jane Austen Society; Natalie Jenner

The Jane Austen Society : A NovelThe Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So perfect for any Austen fans out there - and possibly for those who don't understand the Cult of Jane but are willing to learn. Based in the actual town and houses Jane would be familiar with, but not using more than those to build a WWII-era story about the formation of the Jane Austen Society. There are many references to her best-known characters and novels, with several digressions into why this character acts the way they do, or what is out of character about their actions, or moments when it's clear that they've reached some turning point in their relationship/life. The denizens of Chawton and a couple of outsiders are also stand-ins for Jane's creations, so those who have read (and re-read, or watched and re-watched) the books will start to recognize what's going on. Despite having no real twists, this is a sweet book that does a great job with its subject.

ARC provided by publisher.

Twelve Nights at Rotter House; J.W. Ocker

Twelve Nights at Rotter HouseTwelve Nights at Rotter House by J.W. Ocker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Decent horror story, with tons of references to horror movies, books and tv series. Of course there's a twist, and one wonders at which point we were supposed to have figured it out (there were several moments when I thought there was something off but I couldn't quite pinpoint exactly when the "event" was supposed to have happened). I'll definitely be recommending it to students into horror.