31 July 2015

Untwine; Edwidge Danticat

UntwineUntwine by Edwidge Danticat
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Edwidge Danticat writing YA fiction? And I got to see her do Reader's Theater of an excerpt? Squee!!

The story is a serious one: two identical twins, heading off to a youth symphony performance with their parents, end up as one "leftover" twin thanks to an accident. More than Giselle's body and brain are injured - she has to figure out who she is, if she's only half of who they (she and Isabelle) were. That process takes a good part of the book and not even finding out what caused the accident helps. I'd say more, but I want readers to discover Giselle's story for themselves.

ARC provided by publisher.

In the Language of Miracles; Rajia Hassib

In the Language of MiraclesIn the Language of Miracles by Rajia Hassib
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are times I wonder what is going on in publisher's minds: this could easily have been a YA book, and definitely has crossover appeal. Yet I'm hearing nothing about it!

Talk about diversity: an Egyptian-American family, with the teens fitting in to their normal, American teen life, the father trying to do the same and the mother a little stuck between both worlds. Then the unthinkable happens and the question of how much they've blended into the community arises - but is it their ethnicity, or is it what happened? That question lingers throughout the book and never gets answered (but then, life is like that). The loss of a star stems from the ending, which is one of those "a few years later" epilogues that doesn't quite work.

ARC provided by publisher.

A Night Divided; Jennifer A. Nielsen

A Night DividedA Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A book set in East Germany as the Berlin Wall is erected is not one I'm going to run to read, but what a great surprise! Readers will get a sense of what life was like then for the East Germans, when things were bad but not the dire they'd end up being by the late 70s-80s. There were food shortages, the Stasi were watching everyone, and the populace wasn't quite as cowed as they'd become simply because until the start of the book, they could get to the West easily. Four years later, things are grimmer and escapes much more dangerous... but still, people tried. I'd hoped for a greater sense of Stasi-menace, but perhaps to a child of Gerta's years it really didn't seem to be there? And for those unaware of the suddenness of the Wall's appearance, it's a great reminder of the Soviet mindset.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Double Life of Liliane; Lily Tuck

The Double Life of LilianeThe Double Life of Liliane by Lily Tuck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Because this is a mix of fact and fiction - a fictionalized autobiography, apparently - it took far longer for me to read this than usual: I kept stopping to check on this person, that location. It was gratifying to find them, frustrating when I couldn't or when their reality didn't quite match with what was going on in the book! My hope is that the final version (this was an ARC) provides more clarity or at least a resource list... Even without that, I'm definitely recommending this look at the life of a young girl in France, whose parents must flee/avoid the Nazis, and how she moves into both adulthood and an American existence. No, it's not easy, but it is fascinating.

ARC provided by publisher.

This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! Jonathan Evison

This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! by Jonathan Evison
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Playing off the old TV show's MO, Evison moves us through Harriet's life by jumping from present day to Harriet Age 9, or Harriet Age 32, etc. with occasional glimpses of her recently departed Bernard in... where ever Bernard is. He's still hanging around, leaving Harriet looking slightly dotty because she speaks to him (of course, like any self-respecting ghost, he only appears to her not others). Why is he there? What mistakes did he make, or did she make, or did they make, to have their marriage and children turn out the way they do? All is revealed in this flashback-flashforward fashion. Unfortunately, despite the narrative style, the actual story isn't that interesting or different (by page 50 I'd guessed the Big Secrets, so I flipped to the back and, well, I was right).

ARC provided by publisher.

Fates and Furies; Lauren Groff

Fates and FuriesFates and Furies by Lauren Groff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

IMVHO, a much better book than Arcadia (which diminished each time Groff switched eras). The life that Lotto and Mathilde have is, as all marriages are, not the same from each point-of-view. The Lotto-centric "Fates" side is a little more surreal, with slightly snarky asides and interjections, not to mention a better narrative flow. Mathilde's "Furies" story fills in some of the gaps, sometimes ones we didn't know were there. The two sides do work together nicely, and while their voices aren't that different, they are different enough for it to work (probably because this isn't one of those books told in alternative chapters). There were some parts that, at the end, didn't quite get resolved (Sallie and Rachel's devotion to Mathilde was, for me, unexplained) but overall, a good read.

ARC provided by publisher.

23 July 2015

Coming of Age at the End of Days; Alice LaPlante

Coming of Age at the End of DaysComing of Age at the End of Days by Alice LaPlante
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There's something clearly wrong with Anna. First the depression, followed by visions/hallucinations and then religious fervor point to something being not quite right. But what that is, exactly, isn't clear. Is she truly somehow chosen? Her parents' reaction is a little puzzling (if Anna were my child, I'd have her seeing a doctor and therapist) but given their other issues, not altogether surprising. As the book progresses, Anna seems to become more and more unmoored but then develops a clarity of purpose that may surprise readers. The ending feels a little off, perhaps a little too predictable and abrupt. This might be a problematic read for evangelicals and nonbelievers alike.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Fall; James Preller

The FallThe Fall by James Preller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We often talk with students about online bullying, but perhaps it's better to just give them books like this to read, a book about how one person can instigate the bullying, coercing (by sheer force of personality) others into doing it, and how that can backfire horribly. That's the tangental part of The Fall. The greater part is the effect all of this has had on Sam, who isn't sure why exactly Morgan is a target, isn't quite sure what his relationship is with Morgan, and feels... something. Very powerful.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Trouble in Me; Jack Gantos

The Trouble in MeThe Trouble in Me by Jack Gantos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After The Hole in Me, what was left for Jack Gantos to say about his life? Turns out, quite a lot. Covering a mere two weeks in his life, this fictionalized memoir shows how Young Jack starts heading down the road that leads to prison; it is all the fault of Gary, or was there something else going on that leads Jack to that path? This is less of a "there but for the grace of God go you" cautionary tale than a "so, you wanna hear a story?" book, one that has more resonance because of the biographical nature.

ARC provided by publisher.

I Crawl Through It; A.S. King

I Crawl Through ItI Crawl Through It by A.S. King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yet another book by A.S. King with teens who have deep emotional issues, solved (or dealt with) in some surreal manner: an invisible helicopter, for example, or a girl who swallows herself. Sometimes it was difficult to figure out what exactly was going on and separating reality from what these teens are experiencing or presenting may frustrate readers. There were several "real" things that made me wonder if they, too, were made up by Stanzi and Claire - by the end of the book, I was still unsure. This is definitely not the book for readers who dislike ambiguity and want concrete endings.

ARC provided by publisher.

22 July 2015

City of Thirst; Carrie Ryan

City of ThirstCity of Thirst by Carrie Ryan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What an imaginative series - not quite as clever as The Phantom Tollbooth (but then, what is?) yet with definite overtones of that book (the Bintheyre Map, for example, or the places they travel). Marrill's journey into the Pirate Stream also has hints of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and many other MG fantasy journey books, which will delight readers who know those books in the same way the adult jokes in current animated moves delight the adults while not confusing the younger readers/viewers. Even better, for readers who haven't read the first book (The Map to Everywhere) it's easy to catch on and move forward.

ARC provided by publisher.

Voracious; Cara Nicoletti

Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way through Great BooksVoracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way through Great Books by Cara Nicoletti
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some of my favorite books, coupled with recipes? Yes, please! The bad part is, who has time to make them all right now? I can't wait to get started... As for the introductions to each book/recipe, they provide some insights into the author and her history, but that's not why you're going to want to buy this book.

ARC provided by publisher.

21 July 2015

Voracious; Cara Nicoletti

Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way through Great BooksVoracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way through Great Books by Cara Nicoletti
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some of my favorite books, coupled with recipes? Yes, please! The bad part is, who has time to make them all right now? I can't wait to get started... As for the introductions to each book/recipe, they provide some insights into the author and her history, but that's not why you're going to want to buy this book.

ARC provided by publisher.

17 July 2015

Most Dangerous; Steve Sheinkin

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam WarMost Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was a little young to read the Pentagon Papers article, but I do remember how my parents reacted (I should add the caveat that it's entirely possible that my smalltown newspaper barely covered them!). We were much more interested in Watergate and the investigation, and somewhere in my mind I knew about the Papers and knew there was some connection but it wasn't until later, as an adult, that it all became clear. Today's students frequently don't get to study in depth what for me isn't history but merely my past, and this book will go a long way to bringing this incident into focus. The details of what Ellsberg did and how, along with the background of the war and its buildup, are clearly laid out - easily accessible by teens, written in Sheinkin's usual conversational style (unlike, say, history textbooks). The ending, when he brings in the recent revelations by Edward Snowdon, can help spark the greater question/debate about treason, whistleblowing and informing the public.

Even better, the trim size and endnotes are great for both library shelves and research!

ARC provided by publisher.

Pretty Girls; Karin Slaughter

Pretty GirlsPretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The tension here is pretty high, at times a little too high - sometimes it helps to let things calm down a bit so we feel the increase more, rather than get inured to it. There's a collapsed timeline, which may explain that decision. A few times I thought that the author was riffing on the Paul Bernardo case, albeit a riff with no Karla character. Some scenes are not for the squeamish, while others may strain credulity (example: when Claire enlists her mother's help, which is given without any questions? not likely!). This definitely falls into the Good Beach Read category.

ARC provided by publisher.

Edgewater; Courtney Sheinmel

EdgewaterEdgewater by Courtney Sheinmel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In some ways this is a mash-up of Prep and any Sarah Dessen: modern romance plus some class issues. Lorrie isn't quite a fish-out-of-water but is heading that way, and her desire to keep things from her friends is understandable. For me, more about the house would have been great because I got not only the Hoarder part but a sense of Miss Havisham's house mixed with Misslethwaite Manor. Oh well.

ARC provided by publisher.

Six of Crows; Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The world-building here is good, as is the heist story. So, why wasn't I wowed? Not quite sure: perhaps because there were so many POVs? or perhaps because it felt like it dragged out (or was padded)? or perhaps because some of the more interesting bits got truncated in favor of things like the backstory of each character? There were some surprises for me, and one character in particular somewhat disappointed me by not being quite what I'd been hoping ("disappointed" is the wrong word, but I was hoping for a twist that never happened!). Having said all that, there are several hands I want to put this book in Right Now. Guess we'll wait until Sept.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Guise of Another; Allen Eskens

The Guise of AnotherThe Guise of Another by Allen Eskens
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Suspense novels should be suspenseful - this just missed that. The questions raised early on (about the Grand Jury hearing for Alexander, for example) are clearly not as important as the mystery of Who Was James Putnam and once that really starts chugging along, the only real question is how high the body count would go. I missed by two. Beyond that, there's no real suspense and (for me) no one to really root for.

ARC provided by publisher.

14 July 2015

Harbour Street; Ann Cleeves

Harbour Street (Vera Stanhope, #6)Harbour Street by Ann Cleeves
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first of the Vera mysteries I've read, although I've watched Brenda Blethyn embody her for a number of years ago. That might have been a slight problem, as Vera is described as being significantly larger of body than Ms. Blethyn is (or would be healthy being). Reconciling the two was, at times, difficult. It was interesting to read how Vera is growing in self-awareness (her relationship with Holly is the perfect example). The setting, a small town outside the city in which Vera usually works, with all that entails, were very real despite, being created from whole cloth by the author. What didn't work quite so well was the solution to the murder(s): too quick, too pat and not hinted at earlier. I'm not saying I wanted a neon sign saying "Hey! Here's the murderer!!" but a clue that I could go back to and say "oh, can't believe I missed that" would have been nice.

ARC provided by publisher.

In the Dark Places; Peter Robinson

In the Dark Places (Inspector Banks #22)In the Dark Places by Peter Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third DCI Banks I've read and I really do need to read more. Banks' relationship with his team is so complex, particularly with Annie Cabbott, in many ways that some of my other favorite detectives aren't (Ian Rankin's Rebus, for example). And then there are the playlists. Next time I might just have to download that before reading the book. As for plot, I sort of figured out the connection between the crimes (and perpetrators) earlier than I'd have liked but that didn't spoil my enjoyment of the book.

ARC provided by publisher.

Crooked Heart; Lissa Evans

Crooked HeartCrooked Heart by Lissa Evans
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The first few chapters of this worked for me: I liked Noel and his relationship with his godmother (no word on what happened to his parents), and really felt for him when Mattie disappeared from his life. But the move to the village, living with Vera and Donald? Not so much. Noel's charm somehow vanished, even if that was sort of the plot (he's shocked, slowly starting to come back to life). So much less, in fact, that it seemed like a different book and one I could easily DNF.

ARC provided by publisher.

Crenshaw; Katherine Applegate

CrenshawCrenshaw by Katherine Applegate
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How does anyone cope with the imminent vision of living in the family van... again? Having an old friend around can help, except this old friend is imaginary and a large cat named Crenshaw. Jackson's voice rings true, filled with hope and worry and a slight tinge of despair. The downside was that this felt a little too message-driven (probably my read, as an adult, and not that of the target reader).

ARC provided by publisher.

Beyond Clueless; Linas Alsenas

Beyond CluelessBeyond Clueless by Linas Alsenas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Silly me: I thought that the "Clueless" in the title would have something to do with the movie and/or Emma. Not so much. Instead there's girl, Marty, torn from her GBF (Gay Best Friend) and sent to an all-girl's Catholic school where she needs to make new friends and fit in. Said GBF, Jimmy, easily finds friends at his HS, including a boyfriend. Then the school announces its fall musical, Into the Woods, and boys are needed for some roles. Etc.

It's probably perfect for the Sarah Dessen/Stephanie Perkins readers despite reading a bit lower than that. Oh, and American girls do not say "gobsmacked". Nope.

ARC provided by publisher.

George; Alex Gino

GeorgeGeorge by Alex Gino
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can see the love for this book: the authentic voice makes you root for George and hope her problems can be resolved. So many of these books are either inauthentic. It's the age that concerns me a little, not George's age but the age of the proposed readers. This is not a book that would be on the shelves of more traditional or conservative schools, but those are precisely the shelves where it needs to be (I know one school that considers itself to be liberal, but is very conservative about what the students read).

ARC provided by publisher.

We Believe the Children; Richard Beck

We Believe the Children: The Story of a Moral PanicWe Believe the Children: The Story of a Moral Panic by Richard Beck
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The stories behind this book are the reason why when I take a position at a K-12 school, I have to get fingerprinted. They're also the reason why preschools are now regulated. And yet they're not as discussed as they could be, particularly when we talk about modern day witch hunts (usually during discussions of The Crucible or the HUAC hearings). Why is that?

Beck does a wonderful job of placing the McMartin, Michaels, Jordan and other trials in context, discussing the false memory syndrome, Sybil and Michelle as well as Freud's theories as he talks about the trials and their progress or lack thereof (McMartin being the longest trial in US history). It's clear that not only must the children be believed, but evidence (real evidence) wasn't necessary and that the prosecutors, therapists and others were seriously blinded by their career needs.

A truly frightening book, one that reminds us how quickly hysteria can spread and common sense vanish when a "threat" presents itself.

ARC provided by publisher.

06 July 2015

The Rest of Us Just Live Here; Patrick Ness

The Rest of Us Just Live HereThe Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What happens if you're not one of the Chosen? Instead, just one of those ordinary kids who happens to end up as zombie food, or caught in the crossfire of gods going mad, or trying to escape a vampire outbreak? This is their story, the story of normal kids, doing normal things in a town that might be the nexus for abnormal activity (kinda like the Hellmouth that was Sunnydale CA, kept safe by Buffy).

The reality is: no one is normal. We all have problems, like thinking about college and having crushes on people who don't crush back and getting through prom and figuring out what life is all about. Family can get in the way, with siblings and parents who have problems of one sort or another. It does make it more complicated when things with the "indie kids" world interferes with real life ("indie kids" being the name given to those who are Chosen, Special or otherwise involved with the parawhatever activity - they usually have strange names, like Satchel or Finn. there are a lot of Finns).

I loved this behind the scenes look at what the lives of those in the background scenes of Those Books is like. How they view the activity around them and the indie kids, noticing what's going on but really not as involved or interested beyond getting through high school safely. It's the perfect read for those tired of endless waves of zombies, ghosts, angels, etc.

ARC provided by publisher.

Eileen; Otessa Moshfegh

Eileen: A NovelEileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A first person narration with an unlikeable narrator? That's a rather bold step for a debut. And sometimes it works here, but mostly it doesn't. The problem is that Eileen is so unlikeable, and the real action takes place at the very end of the book, leaving the first seven eights or so for readers to wonder why to continue. There's lots of detail, giving us plenty of reason to not like Eileen (her wearing of her mother's clothes, her alcoholism and personal habits, etc.) and only a few reasons why we should (her alcoholic father, her horrible-sounding job). The ending didn't seem quite true, either, with Eileen seeming to have no interest in finding out exactly what happened after she left, despite this meandering account of What Came Before. Perhaps giving us something at the end to redeem her, some idea that she changed since the events in the book?

ARC provided by publisher.

01 July 2015

The Library at Mount Char; Scott Hawkins

The Library at Mount CharThe Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book so easily could have been the start of a series, or at least a trilogy but it seems as though it's a one-off. YAY! What a great idea: interesting plot, lots of action, good conclusion and done. It's been so long since that's happened.

The Library is almost like the Tardis, larger (far larger) on the inside than it appears, although "appears" is the wrong word since no one can actually see it. Some event happened a number of years ago, at a picnic, and Carolyn and several others were somehow in the care of Father, an incredibly stern and powerful man/god/something who can do some pretty amazing things. How Carolyn and the others grow up, learning from their specialized sections of the Library (though to what end is up in the air) may stand them in good stead when Father goes missing. If only they can work together...

I can think of so many readers for whom this will be the perfect summer read, particularly given the blend of genres (some horror, some fantasy with a dash of romance and philosophy).

ARC provided by publisher.

8; Elisha Cooper

8: An Animal Alphabet8: An Animal Alphabet by Elisha Cooper
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cute book that will be perfect for teaching both the number 8 and animals. Biggest quibble? Too small a font and the information about the animals could have been a little more expansive.

ARC provided by publisher.

Sunny Side Up; Jennifer L. Holm

Sunny Side UpSunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading the back matter, why Holm set this in the 1970s is clear. But not having read that, people might wonder why this is set then rather than today. After all, there are retirement communities today and families with the same problems today. The pages where we learn what the Bicentennial or a Polaroid was were nice, but felt a little like filler. Beyond that, however, is a book that might help readers who are having similar problems in their families, who might feel similarly confused and abandoned by their parents.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Only Child; Guojing

The Only ChildThe Only Child by Guojing
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh wow. The illustrations are just gorgeous. There's such depth here, worthy of more than a quick read but real study. As for plot? By the end I wasn't sure if this was a dream or a real adventure, which was ok. Ambiguity is good. And maybe, if I read and reread it, I'll decide. I rarely predict the Caldecott's but this one? It'd be very surprising if it doesn't get at least a mention.

ARC provided by publisher.

Slade House; David Mitchell

Slade HouseSlade House by David Mitchell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Imagine my surprise at seeing a second new David Mitchell book in 2015! Slimmer than The Bone Clocks, Slade House starts as a paranormal mystery and ends much as the earlier book, with suasions and lacuna and orisons and characters returning from previous books. That's what cost a star. I know it's one of the things that Mitchell fans love, but for me, the story of Slade House didn't need all that: the mysteries of how these people get tricked into coming into the house, and what happens to them, and why it's only every nine years, and can they be stopped, are all that's needed.

ARC provided by publisher.

The League of Unexceptional Children; Gitty Daneshvari

The League of Unexceptional ChildrenThe League of Unexceptional Children by Gitty Daneshvari
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every now and then I read a book and know exactly which students I want to give it to; this is one of those books. Rather than the child who has some special power, or was born into an unusual family, or anything like that, this is about two completely really, really "normal" - forgettable, even - teens who get to use that talent to help save the US from disaster. What a great read for all those kids who are average students, average athletes, average looking, average socially and just plain average.

ARC provided by publisher.

Goodbye Stranger; Rebecca Stead

Goodbye StrangerGoodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Stead uses this book to tackle big issues, like feminism and body issues and first love(? maybe - they're just friends) as well as friendships and how they grow and change. That's the good part. Even better, she's a great writer who can tackle those things well. The relationships between Bridge, Tab and Em are not perfect but they are real; Bridge's relationship with her brother is equally well-drawn. Em's friendship with Joanna and her crush/cell relationship with Patrick? I've seen similar dilemmas in my schools.

The only problem I had was the addition of the mystery person playing hookey: someone clearly involved, somehow, with our three BFFs but with a different set of problems. Since this insertion ultimately has nothing to do with the main plot, it was a distraction and, well... But maybe I'm the only one that will feel that way? I can see committees loving this and rightly so.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Detour; S.A. Bodeen

The DetourThe Detour by S.A. Bodeen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There's nothing wrong with unlikable main characters, particularly if the story is compelling (like, Gone Girl). The story here is Misery for the YA audience, without the maiming. But the part about the unlikable main characters? Olivia/Livvy is not just self-centered - and let's remember, she's only 17, so that's somewhat allowed - but she's not at all sympathetic. Her issues and Deep Dark Secrets are typical teen, and I admit that I thought her captors were somehow related to them. That there's a surprise twist was a pleasure and raised this from a 2. But at the end, once she's free and knows why she was the target, she shows no signs of growth or understanding. Now, teens are not always capable of deep insights, but surely after this experience there'd be something? Nope. They were wrong, she's in the right and she has the power of her blog and press and fame to feed that impression. In many ways that was a true ending, but I'd hoped for more.

ARC provided by publisher.