19 March 2017

Bang; Barry Lyga

BangBang by Barry Lyga
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lyga has a real ear for how teens speak, and a great sense of how to portray their lives. Bang, his latest, may feel "ripped from the headlines" and perhaps sensationalistic, but with only one blip, it really worked for me. I won't spoil it for others, so I can't comment on that blip now... but the five stars is really four-and-a-half rounded up.

Sebastian's pizza, though? No recipes? Perhaps it's for the best... or maybe there'll be a real YouTube channel for the videos. A pizza lover can hope.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Star Thief; Lindsey Becker

The Star ThiefThe Star Thief by Lindsey Becker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the problems of reading as much as I do is that it takes a lot to surprise me, to feel that a book is doing something new. And one might argue that The Star Thief is an astronomer's version of the Percy Jackson stories but... it feels new. It feels fresh. It read wonderfully.

The orphan-who-is-really-special here is Honorine, who learns that her life of drudgery is merely a ploy to keep her safe (from her father, no less). So far, so normal. But the who of her mother and father, the how of the adventure (and where they go) is what makes this special. I particularly loved that this wasn't all about the typical North/West constellations and I had to go to do research into some of the less-familiar (to me) ones.

I could see this becoming a series, but it could also be a stand-alone. I'm happy either way.

ARC provided by publisher.

17 March 2017

Genius: The Game; Leopoldo Gout

Genius: The GameGenius: The Game by Leopoldo Gout
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ok, clearly the first book in a series (or trilogy? duology?) because far too many loose ends were left. But beyond that, not a bad book.

Of the three main characters, I liked Cai/Painted Wolf the most (Tunde seemed really stereotypical, and Rex was oddly flat). Had the entire book been about her, it would have been even better but we need Rex and Teo to set up the second book, sadly. Kiran's ethics and motivations were also stereotypical and I often wondered if the author was trying to subtly(?) comment on global networks and the so-called flattening of information, along with our addiction to social networking. Or maybe I'm reading waaay too much into this? The stereotypes and fake African patois cost the book stars.

Blood Family; Anne Fine

Blood FamilyBlood Family by Anne Fine
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Much of this was really well done, despite being one of those multi-POV books (please, can we just STOP THIS TREND???). Edward's life and reactions to the way in which he's treated are very real up and to the point he starts going off the rails. I'm not suggesting that part isn't real, as well, but it's the ending that bothered me: he seems to recover from that too quickly, too well. Or perhaps it's more that the author glosses over that part? Because I really don't buy that he's recovered, that it happened that seamlessly. And I don't buy that his descent into "problem" territory was that mild or short (again, it could have been the way in which it's depicted but still...).

ARC provided by publisher.

The Beast Is An Animal; Peternelle van Arsdale

The Beast Is an AnimalThe Beast Is an Animal by Peternelle van Arsdale
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

DNF. I tried - but about 100 pages in it just wasn't working for me (plucky heroine, puritanical village, dark forest? nothing new in any of that). YMMV.

13 March 2017

A Good Idea; Cristina Moracho

A Good IdeaA Good Idea by Cristina Moracho
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nothing surprising here. Fin's grief and reaction to Betty's death, her search for the killer and interactions with people in the incredibly small Maine town she mostly grew up in are all predictable. The unpredictable? Her relationship with Serena, which didn't feel quite real (not that it couldn't happen, just that given her feelings for Owen it wasn't plausible except as shock value... or someone suggesting to the author that adding it would be a good idea). Teens might enjoy this more than I did, hence the three stars.

ARC provided by publisher.

Eyes of the World; Marc Aronson

Eyes of the World: Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and the Invention of Modern PhotojournalismEyes of the World: Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and the Invention of Modern Photojournalism by Marc Aronson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Robert and Cornell Capa (along with their mother) are buried in my Meeting's cemetery, and I've been involved in creating some signage explaining who they were and why they're there. So a book about him and his contribution to our understanding of war? Yes, please. The Spanish Civil War is one of those "I think I understand it... but it's incredibly confusing" events, and this book does a decent job of explaining the various factions and what happened. For that, two stars.

However the book itself? So problematic. Starting with, why present tense? It's an odd choice for non-fiction about the past. The framing device of D-Day doesn't work well and could easily have been done without (although the part about Capa's post-Spanish Civil War career needed to be told). Some people, like Capa's mentor, are paid short shrift, while others are hinted at (there's a couple mentioned on page 180 that are never named, but there's a hint that these are Important People). And Appendix C, the one with the comparison to the Syrian Civil War? My head hurt. There were other things that were problems that might be changed by publication, like failing to credit the photos on each page (were they Capas? Taros? someone else?). I could go on, but then I'd need another drink.

ARC provided by publisher.

11 March 2017

Deadly Tasting; Jean-Pierre Alaux

Deadly TastingDeadly Tasting by Jean-Pierre Alaux
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It feels harsh DNFing a 100 page book, so I finished this. The writing style (either in the original French or in translation - I don't know which to blame) is overly ornate, with many, many subordinate clauses and far more commas than necessary. I like amateur detectives, especially those with interesting careers, like Lovejoy. The amateur detective here is a wine rater but the bits about that part of his life are, sadly, boring. And let's not get into the fact that he, his sidekick and the police detective are just annoying.

Denton Little's Still Not Dead; Lance Rubin

Denton Little's Still Not Dead (Denton Little #2)Denton Little's Still Not Dead by Lance Rubin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have to admit it, I totally squeeed when I saw the ARC at ALAMW. Sadly, this suffers in comparison to the first book: Denton's wry take on life and - more importantly - death aren't as much in evidence this time around. Instead, we get a suspense/chase book featuring Denton and Paolo, Paolo's girlfriend(?), Denton's possible girlfriend/Paolo's older sister and Denton's older brother. Add two wacky mothers, a government conspiracy or two and some implausible escapes and stir. The goodness is that sprinkled in both books are some interesting thoughts about life, death, birth and what we can/should do (or know) about each.

ARC provided by publisher.

After the Fall; Kate Hart

After the FallAfter the Fall by Kate Hart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Incredibly predictable - no character and no plot point surprised me. Not sure that will matter to the teens reading this, though.

Raychel ("Raych" to her friends) leads a very working class life, except that she's BFF's and almost a member of Andrew's family. Her reputation is that of a semi-slut who only does college men, while Andrew pines from not-so-afar. And then there's Matthew, Andrew's somewhat annoying not-that-much-younger brother. Fans of love triangles can see where this is going, at least in Part One. Part Two deals with the aftermath (no spoilers) and how lives can change in an instant, while at the same time remaining remarkably the same.

ARC provided by publisher.

18 February 2017

Frogkisser; Garth Nix

Frogkisser!Frogkisser! by Garth Nix
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I never thought I'd read a Garth Nix book and think, he's channeling Terry Pratchett, but... he did. He is. And it's delightful. (Nix also has touches of Patricia Wrede and others, just adding to the yumminess).

This is sort of a fractured fairy tale, with elements we know thrown in in unusual ways. Snow White makes an appearance, there are many heralds named Gerald (it's a thing), far too many frogs to be kissed, flying carpets, dwarves, evil stepstepfathers and so. much. more. And I can't believe I'm saying this but, more please. I love this world - I actually forced myself to stay up and finish this book rather than waiting until the next day.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Hanging Valley; Peter Robinson

The Hanging Valley (Inspector Banks, #4)The Hanging Valley by Peter Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When authors create realistic landscapes and villages it's annoying because I want to visit... and I can't. The world Robinson has created for Banks is based on reality, but isn't quite. Pout.

This one took a little more suspension of belief for me: the old, unsolved murder and disappearance were fine, as was the one that started the book. But the second? I'm not sure I believed it as much. And the close-lipped natives sometimes felt put there so that the murder wasn't easily solved rather than simply how the town was. It was also a little unclear how big Swainshead really was. A few hundred people? A few thousand? Under a hundred? Banks' trip to Toronto is fun, however, as is his incomprehension about baseball.

Past Reason Hated; Peter Robinson

Past Reason Hated (Inspector Banks, #5)Past Reason Hated by Peter Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another DCI Banks (yes, I'm on something of a roll with this). This time, we're meeting a new member of CID and investigating a murder of a lesbian who has a murky past. There's a lot about music here (Vivaldi's Laudate pueri and a modern-day classical composer play roles) and my To Be Listened To list is growing bigger. But back to Banks. He's clearly not tempted by other women yet - although he does seem to have really good relationships with them. By "good" I mean, he seems very comfortable with women and very much enjoys their company, whether they're suspects, helping the case or his wife. It's not a bad thing, and he's definitely not a playboy detective, but it's an interesting twist on the detective personality.

Mystery-wise, there are a few red-herrings, but as a reader it was easy to follow along. I didn't get there before Banks, but it wasn't impossible to get there. The fact that it was Christmas time, there was snow and evening, made it easier for the author to keep the whodunnit part hidden longer than had this been summer, or daylight.

Two quibbles: one, the referencing of "real life", as in "that doesn't happen in real life" or "this isn't television". I know it's a thing authors do to try to get readers to buy in to the realness of the world they're creating or as a flag that they're really following police procedure. Still don't like it. And two, there's a Dalgleish reference that goes awry. I didn't mind it, per se, but first Banks doesn't know who he was (or that he wrote poetry) and then somehow intuits it later? It just didn't work for me.

12 February 2017

RoseBlood; A.G. Howard

RoseBloodRoseBlood by A.G. Howard
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Oh, I so wanted to love this: set in France, based on The Phantom of the Opera? Please! But... well... not so much. If the interweaving of the two stories had been slighter, and there was less of a feeling of "was there a first book I missed?", it might have been better. As it is, however, there's a strong sense that there's something that we're missing (perhaps to be revealed later? perhaps never to be revealed) and far too many adjectives and adverbs for my taste. DNF.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Harlem Charade; Natasha Tarpley

The Harlem CharadeThe Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarpley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another book about finding/reclaiming heritage (will this be a trend? hmmm...). Under the guise of the ever-popular class project, Jin teams up with the odd-girl Alex to learn more about Harlem. Turns out, there's a mystery or two around: who attacked Elvin's grandfather? what happened to the paintings that Henrietta created as part of the Invisible 7 collective? While at times there was a little too much info-dumping and a level of implausibility regarding how Jin, Alex, Elvin and Rose are allowed to just roam around, the sense of place and history will perhaps encourage readers to learn more about their neighborhoods and history.

ARC provided by publisher.

Me and Marvin Gardens; A.S. King

Me and Marvin GardensMe and Marvin Gardens by A.S. King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A.S. King's first middle grade attempt has many of the hallmarks of her young adult books: the main character is something of a loner (here, he's lost his bff and is being bullied) and there's something unusual/magical (Marvin Gardens, a plastic-eating creature of some sort). While it's never clear what Marvin is, the message of pollution and environmental change is clear, though not in a "hitting you over the head until it hurts" way. It was also interesting to see how closely Obe identifies with the Devlin property and the heritage it implies; in our ever-building modern age, that sort of rootedness is missing and readers may begin to think about this more.

05 February 2017

Goldfish Ghost; Lemony Snicket

Goldfish GhostGoldfish Ghost by Lemony Snicket
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lemony Snicket writing children's stories? Yes, please! Goldfish Ghost is cute, and might even make children who have lost goldfish feel better about their loss (I had at least three that failed to thrive).

ARC provided by publisher.

Now; Antoinette Portis

NowNow by Antoinette Portis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How like a child: each thing they're doing NOW is their favorite (or best, or most hated, etc.) and having a book that acknowledges that is wonderful. I do wish that part had been stressed a little more, but otherwise...

ARC provided by publisher.

Flunked; Jen Calonita

Flunked (Fairy Tale Reform School, #1)Flunked by Jen Calonita
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love me some updated fairy tales and this is a cute entry into that genre. I wish there'd been more from familiar tales, which in this book appear mostly as the teachers and princessess. Still, first book in a series? There's definite promise.

ARC provided by publisher

Little Plane Learns to Write; Stephen Savage

Little Plane Learns to WriteLittle Plane Learns to Write by Stephen Savage
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So cute. I wish Little Plane had written more..

ARC provided by publisher.

The Cruelty; Scott Bergstrom

The Cruelty (The Cruelty, #1)The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Quick review: The Gallagher Girls meet Boy Nobody meets You Don't Know My Name. The problem is that rather than the careful training that all of the leads in those books get, here we have Gwendolyn, skilled at languages but otherwise "normal". Her life with her State Department-based father consists of moving, moving, moving so she doesn't have many friends (which doesn't feel completely real: wouldn't she have made friends at each of her schools? and, in this day and age, kept in touch?). Then her father goes missing and she goes to find him, relying on those language skills and a few weeks martial arts training? Suspension of disbelief required.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Sweetest Sound; Sherri Winston

The Sweetest SoundThe Sweetest Sound by Sherri Winston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Predictable but charming story about a girl, Mouse, who wants to grow out of the life she's been assigned since her mother left but is too shy to really do it. Interesting that Luna, based on her mother's nickname for her, is not just for Moon Goddess but also Luna Butterfly.

ARC provided by publisher.

City of Saints & Thieves; Natalie C. Anderson

City of Saints & ThievesCity of Saints & Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Knowing that these types of people and events actually exist is sobering. Tina's search for her mother's killer while trying to protect her sister, Kiki, and friend Boyboy feels very real; at times it's difficult to remember she's only 16. The problem isn't her truncated childhood, it's that she is a bit of a cipher, never really coming clearly into focus. That somewhat vague quality extends to all the characters and to the setting, a fictitious city in Africa. So, points off for that. But added points for bringing the struggles and trauma suffered by people in Congo and nearby countries.

14 January 2017

The Weight of Zero; Karen Fortunati

The Weight of ZeroThe Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not an expert on teen depression, or even adult depression, so I'll take the author's word for her expertise and depiction of Cath's illness. It certainly felt real and was easy to relate to what was going on in Cath's life, including her fears not only of being ill (and the return of the Zero part of being bipolar) but also of what her former friends thought about her now.

My quibble is with her relationship with Michael. It did feel that her starting to come out of her shell with Kristal and the others in her group helped, but at times it was Michael and that relationship that - to me! only to me! YMMV! - read as though it was some magical device that would help "cure" her. While I did buy that those friendships and ties could help her reach some sort of peace with the reality of being bipolar and recognizing that Zero might return but perhaps was survivable, it kinda felt to me as though with Michael in her life, Zero would never return. Which did not feel real or plausible.

ARC provided by publisher.

Word of Mouse; Joe Sutphin

Word of MouseWord of Mouse by Joe Sutphin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cute Middle Grade fiction, but something felt a little off to this adult reader. Maybe the message about using mice in experiments didn't quite resonate? or maybe it was the sense that there should be some humor but it wasn't there?

ARC provided by publisher.

Life in a Fishbowl; Len Vlahos

Life in a FishbowlLife in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved Jack Tumor and The Truman Showand I've enjoyed Vlahos' writing style, so the three combined? Ok, I'll bite.

What made this a four was that this is appallingly all-too-plausible. Not the auctioning off of the life (although apparently Craigslist and eBay are constantly pulling similar things off their listings), but the way in which the reality tv program twists and distorts "cast" actions to goose ratings. So that particular hell was incredibly well described. That Jared made the decision without consulting his family and was allowed to sign all those contracts without them (or their signatures) didn't feel quite as real, but what do I know? My closest call with reality tv was being told that if I attended a HS graduation part for two students I tacitly gave permission to be filmed and shown on tv (note: I did not attend!). It's Jackie's response to all this, and her relationships with her parents, sister and online friend that really made the book.

Dropping it from a 5 to a 4, however, was some of the subplot (crazy billionaire guy really lost me). But the tumor? Loved the depiction.

ARC provided by publisher.

Caraval; Stephanie Garber

Caraval (Caraval, #1)Caraval by Stephanie Garber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My biggest problem with this is that I kept wondering what it would look like as a mini-series: the world of the Caraval would be so cool to actually see. There were minor annoyances (how the different Empires got started never being explained - which isn't important to the story itself, but I did wonder) and that this will be a series, but overall I really liked the story. Not sure I completely bought Scarlett as a heroine, or Tella's decisions, which seemed to be somewhat undermined at the end; equally not sure that the Night Circus comparisons are accurate. But the world created is incredibly vivid and I loved the allusion to Disney's "behind the scenes" reality and how different the Caravel world was from the usual settings.

ARC provided by publisher.

Boy Robot; Simon Curtis

Boy RobotBoy Robot by Simon Curtis
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

One or two too many stories, something I've noticed with series starters. We meet someone interesting, or start an interesting action, then jump to another and may not get back to that person/event for quite some time. UGH. It's not clever, it's not innovative, it's annoying.

As for the plot, standard dystopia with a delightful homophobic episode tossed in. Readers are almost as in the dark as Isaak, which really doesn't help.

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