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.