Tuesday, December 31, 2013


126. Insomnia, Jenn Johanssen

 (I actually read this a couple of months ago but just realized I never posted my review.)

I was probably predisposed to like this one since I've met the author and she's awesome (and a redhead, so naturally we're kindred spirits . . . ). And while I'm not usually big on thrillers, I did quite enjoy this one. The story line is quite original: Parker is a Watcher, which means he's forced to inhabit the dreams of the last person he makes eye contact with each day.

Insomnia (The Night Walkers, #1)What this mostly means is that Parker doesn't sleep. Ever. And the sleeplessness is slowly killing him. When he meets a new girl at school, Mia, whose dreams are strangely restful (and the first time Parker has been able to really sleep in months), he becomes obsessed. Not romantically obsessed--just desperate to find ways for her to be the last one he sees each night. Not surprisingly, it doesn't take long for Mia to be completely creeped out by his behavior and to try to avoid him. Even his friends think he's finally lost it.

But when strange things begin happening in his own dreams and Mia is threatened--Parker doesn't know if he can trust himself anymore.

What I liked about this book (and what, apparently, some reviewers hate about it) was that Parker was an unreliable narrator. He genuinely doesn't know if he's capable of doing some of the horrible things he's afraid he's actually done. Sometimes the writing style was fragmented and a bit disjointed, but I think that perfectly reflected Parker's state of mind. And yes, sometimes (frequently), Parker is a jerk. But he doesn't want to be that person, and he works toward changing it.

The story has some surprising twists and tense moments--a good example of a YA thriller. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Wishing Well

125. The Wishing Well, Holly Zitting

The Wishing Well (Paradan Tales, #1)I got this book free on my Kindle--and I struggled to get through parts of it. The basic story premise is interesting: a girl (Aurora) who's been bullied hides herself in an abandoned well to get away from her tormenters and finds herself in a high fantasy world, a kingdom ruled by a wicked king. Aurora's immediately taken to the castle and forced to serve with other enslaved creatures (fairies, trolls, etc.) But after making friends with the castle staff, she finds her new security threatened when the king decides to cement his power in the kingdom by taking a pretty young wife and getting an heir--and Aurora is his choice. Since Aurora has already fallen hard for the king's stable boy, this isn't a future she wants for herself. At the same time, her personal struggles are mirrored by a rebellion growing in the kingdom, led by her boyfriend, Cassius.

Some concerns I had: not all of the plot made sense to me. For instance, if King Tommit needs a wife to help win the support of the people, why would he choose someone who wasn't even from his kingdom--no matter how lovely she is? While the story pacing was good, the story could have benefited from tighter editing: there were a number of distracting errors in the kindle version, and the descriptions sometimes tended to rely on cliches. Additionally, there were odd shifts in POV--after the first forty or so pages from Aurora's first person point of view, it was a little jarring to abruptly go to a third person POV--especially since some of the third person stories were from minor characters that we didn't meet until well into the story.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Power Revealed

124. Power Revealed, Leah Berry
Power Revealed (The Elementers, #1)

Justin Wilder's life is a mess: he's just lost his best friend (his grandfather) and moved to a new school hundreds of miles away. Now he's just heard a tree talk to him--and he thinks he might be going crazy. Luckily for him, he soon discovers that he's not crazy, just a member of an elite group of elementers who can control the elements. Only Justin's more powerful than any of them have seen, and his reluctance to bow to rules has already brought him unwelcome attention from the Council which monitors the elementers. When Justin discovers that his grandfather's death may not have been accidental, his struggle to discover what may have gone wrong leads him into grave danger.

There were a lot of things to like here: the writing style was clean and didn't get in the way of the story; the magic world was well-thought out and consistent, and the story moved at a fast pace. Justin drove me crazy, though, with his insistence on questioning rules just for the sake of questioning them--and I'm getting a little tired of the fantasy motif where the main character is able to save the world because they are so unusually powerful. Aside from that, I think a lot of young fantasy readers would enjoy this.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Eleanor and Park

123. Eleanor and Park, Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park I really loved this book. 
On some levels, it's a quiet book: most of the scenes focus on the unfolding relationship between Eleanor and Park. But Rowell develops this relationship so beautifully, I found myself rereading scenes just to try and figure out how she maintained the pacing in a novel where (in some scenes) not much actually happens. I think what I loved best was the characters: Rowell makes you fall in love with both characters--not in spite of their imperfections, but in part because of those imperfections--so it seems perfectly natural that Eleanor and Park should love each other as well.

Park is a pretty average kid: he falls short of his father's expectations, but he's a good kid, his parents love each other (maybe too much), he gets by in school and he's not at the bottom of the social totem pole. When he first sees Eleanor, he recognizes immediately that she is precisely the kind of person who draws the wrong kind of attention in school. But when no one else will let Eleanor sit with them on the bus (and she clearly has to sit somewhere), Park reluctantly--even angrily--gives her a place to sit by him. This simple act leads to an improbable friendship and a smart, funny, heart-breaking romance.

All Eleanor seems to want is to be invisible, to get through the day without drawing any attention. But she's all wrong, from her out of control curly red hair to her over-sized body, to the clothes she wears (mostly men's clothes because her mom can't afford to buy her anything new). At home, Eleanor struggles to find her place after being gone for a year (where and why is one of the early mysteries of the book). She looks out for her four younger siblings and tries, at all costs, to avoid her stepfather, who's a real piece of work.

And then she meets Park, and everything changes. Because he sees her. He gets her. And he likes her--loves her--anyway.

I wish a book like this had been around when I was in high school: it would have made a big difference to the gawky, overweight red-head I was then to believe that someone could think I was beautiful. Rowell gets so convincingly inside of Park's head that we realize that it doesn't even matter to him that Eleanor is what some people would call "fat"--to him, she's beautiful. Period. And through his eyes we see all the ways that she's luminous (a word Rowell uses frequently to refer to Eleanor). I loved, too, how well the book captured the immediacy and all-consuming nature of one's first real romance.

Really, the only thing I didn't like was that there wasn't enough of it. Also, there was some language--but in context, it worked (the coarseness of Eleanor's language is largely a reflection of the coarseness of her home life).

Sunday, December 22, 2013

122. The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by  Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks  I really enjoyed this book, which tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, a young black woman with cervical cancer whose cancerous cell tissue provided the now famous HeLa cells that have been so widely used in scientific research. The cells were taken from Lacks without her permission or awareness, something that was common practice in the 1950s. As Skloot investigates the story, she becomes increasingly drawn into her relationship with Lacks' family, who continue to struggle with poverty even as HeLa cells are sold worldwide.

The story is part history (piecing together what is known of Henrietta's story), part family drama (the current lives of Lacks' children), part historiography (Skloot's account of her research process reveals a lot about the ways we tell history and the sources we go to for history) and part scientific ethics (as Skloot raises some interesting questions about ownership of human cells).

The different story lines weren't always perfectly woven together, but the material was fascinating and very accessible. I was also very impressed with Skloot as a researcher--she possessed a tenacity in following the material over a several-year period, even after an initial rebuff from Lacks' family, that suggests her real passion for the subject.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Friends and Traitors

121. Friends and Traitors (Slayers #2), CJ Hill.

Friends and Traitors (Slayers, #2)I'm a long-time fan of C.J. Hill (aka Janette Rallison). While her Slayers books are very different from her (very funny) YA novels, there's still a lot of humor and relationship drama in these books. And while this book is the second in a series, it doesn't seem to suffer from the second book syndrome--partly, I think, because the characters still have some compelling arcs.

In this book, Tori is just beginning to come into her own as a Slayer when she has to put all her training aside to return home from "summer camp" for the school year and a high-profile life as a senator's daughter. Because of the danger of associating outside of camp, Jesse breaks things off with her. And while Tori is heartbroken, she finds some solace in her friendship with Dirk, who isn't afraid to break a few rules to see Tori outside of camp. Of course, that might be because Dirk is struggling with a few dangerous secrets of his own.

When Tori realizes that she can hear noises from the dragon hatchlings, she worries that the eggs might already be hatched. Along with the other slayers, she launches a search to find Ryker Davis, a missing Slayer whose participation might make all the difference in the upcoming showdown with Overdrake.

I have to say that I really loved the interplay between Tori and Dirk. While I don't agree with all of Dirk's choices, I found his position to be a complicated and compelling one. I didn't love Tori's relationship with Jesse as much--he winds up coming across as a bit of a prig. Still, it's hard not to love a book that has the heroine zooming across the sky in a Wonder Woman costume (and fully aware of the ironic humor in her appearance). And the dragons are beautiful and dangerous and heartbreaking all at once.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Blud and Magick

 Blüd and Magick 120. Blud and Magick by Preston Norton.

This book read a bit like a mash-up of Harry Potter and Hex Hall: 14-year-old Darla Summer is a re-incarnation (of sorts) of the Shadow Lord Alrad Remmus--but she thinks she's a perfectly average teenage girl until the day she discovers that someone has stolen the body of her English teacher and that the two boys she's been assigned to work with are a warlock and a vampire. The discoveries multiply at this point, including her discovery that her beloved Uncle Edwin is really a Sage for the kingdom of Trivaesia and he is being summoned home--along with Darla, who is to attend the Alrad Academy of Blud and Magick, a school for paranormals of all sorts.

The story was fun: the writing style was light and fast and the teenagers had some pretty good back-and-forth exchanges. The high fantasy style of the first chapter threw me a little, because it was quite different from the style of the rest of the book. Darla herself also seemed a bit passive: lots of things happened to her, but she didn't really start acting until the end of the book.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Feudlings in Flames

119. Feudlings in Flames, by Wendy Knight
Feudlings in Flames (Fate on Fire, #2)
I really wanted to like this book more than I actually did. I think Knight has a great writing style: clear, interesting, good action sequences. But for some reason, I'm not connecting to this series. The first one bothered me because it was quite violent and the main character seemed indifferent to the violence (that is, she was powerful enough to casually kill lots of people when the occasion demanded--as it frequently did, since she had been raised as a weapon for her people). At least, until she isn't indifferent. There's an odd sort of vacillation in Ari where she doesn't seem to hesitate or think about blasting people out of the way in her quest to rescue her good friend Charity (or on other occasions), but then she thinks of herself as a monster. I'd like to see the two aspects integrated more in her character: more struggle with killing, less self-loathing after the fact.

There's less killing in this second book, but Ari still has that sometimes odd callousness about killing that I find disturbing. I suppose most of it can be explained by her background--but still. In this book she faces off against the family that raised her, and it doesn't seem to bother her as much as it would bother most people. The relationships here were a little odd, too--they didn't have the nice arc of the previous book, because most of the relationships were established. But her relationship with Shane seemed artificially strained, to me. Shane seemed jealous of things without even talking to Ari about them, and Ari wasn't as forthcoming as she could have been. The ending, too, was a little disappointing. After a great build-up, the actual end was a little flat. (I wonder if Ms. Knight herself knew that, because at one point she has Ari quote T.S. Eliot: "This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper.")

Okay, now this review sounds mostly like griping. There were some great things here. I liked watching Charity struggle to be strong, and her story arc was one of the strongest in the book. Some of the secrets revealed here were interesting, and, as mentioned above, the action sequences are all fast-paced.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Dream Thieves

The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle, #2)118. Dream Thieves, by Maggie Stiefvater

Confession: at this point, I would probably read just about anything written by Ms. Stiefvater because I love her writing style so much. (Further confession: I bought my son the first book in the Spirit Animals series mostly because I saw that Ms. Stiefvater was writing one of them . . .)

In those terms, this book did not disappoint. The writing is haunting, lyrical, dream-like--and funny. And I love her attention to detail, including the bits of Old English that the Gray Man translates (I took an OE course in graduate school and remember just enough to truly geek-out at stuff like this).

The plot in this particular one was a little more meandering: Gansey is still searching for Glendower (buried Welsh king), but the search has stalled out because Cabeswater is behaving capriciously, disappearing and reappearing at odd intervals. Ronan is even more out-of-control, egged on by newcomer Kavinsky, and his dreams are peopled with nightmares. An oddly unassuming, Anglo-Saxon loving hit man shows up in town, looking for something called the Graywaren. Blue is still trying to avoid her fate of killing her true love if she kisses him, and Adam is trying to figure out what, exactly, he promised to Cabeswater. It's not until the end of the book that all these odd threads come together (and they come together nicely), but unless you're along for the ride of the language and the characters (I was), the plot might be a bit disappointing.

Also, like Blue, I'm kinda in love with Gansey. I don't know what makes him so appealing: his willingness to believe in people and things? His loyalty?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Awakener

117. The Awakener, by Amanda Strong

Fifteen-year-old Eden has a gift for awakening talents in others--but she has no idea of this. After encountering her childhood friend Micah again for the first time in years, she feels compelled to hug him. When she does so, she changes him, making him aware of a world of demons and Guardian angels and his own unique gifts. With demons threatening to break lose and destroy the world, Eden, Micah, and their friends will need all of their powers to hold back this threat.

The AwakenerSo the basic story here--of a group of teens who need to save the world--isn't exactly unique. But Strong throws a unique spin on things by drawing heavily from the apocryphal story of Enoch and his legendary city. And honestly, the detailed research she put into this was one of the most compelling parts of the story. The rest of it I liked, but just couldn't quite connect to the characters. I also struggle sometimes understanding why a group of teens, conveniently located in the same town, are the ones meant to save the world. (This is a critique about a certain genre of YA fantasy--not just this story). Here, at least, Eden's talent for awakening talents in others does explain the geographic coincidence. But why is the world always at the mercy of teenagers? While there are a few secondary characters who are older, it's mostly the teens who figure in here.

The characters and voice also weren't quite as distinct as I would have liked. I had a hard time keeping the secondary characters straight here and some of them seemed single-dimensional. Of course--this is all just my opinion, and going by the reviews on Goodreads, mine is a minority opinion!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Warrior Beautiful

116. Warrior Beautiful, by Wendy Knight.

Warrior Beautiful (Riders of Paradesos, #1)At the beginning of the novel, Scout is a damaged soul: she's still recovering from an accident that left her unable to dance as she'd like, and she's still recovering from heartbreak (her ex broke things off at the same time as the accident). She throws herself into dance at school and focuses her energy on her relationship with her sister, Lil Bit. (Okay, side note: I really struggled with this nick-name. The kid is eleven and the nickname makes her seem even more juvenile than she actually is). Lil Bit can see things that aren't there: unicorns and nightmare creatures she calls Soul Stealers. Scout isn't quite sure what to think of Lil Bit's visions, but she knows her sister isn't a liar. Then, when a strange disease begins attacking people in town (including Scout's sister) and Scout actually sees a Soul Stealer, she realizes there's a lot going on that she doesn't know.

For starters, she gets recruited to be a unicorn rider. Unicorns fight Soul Stealers, but they are much more powerful with a human rider. Scout is willing to do anything to save her sister--but when her ex is also recruited to ride with the unicorns, Scout isn't sure if her heart is up for it.

There was a lot to like here: the writing is clean and fast-paced, the plot was interesting, and the relationship between Scout and her sister was genuinely touching. I didn't love everything though. (I already mentioned the nickname thing). Sometimes I felt like Scout's drama with her ex was a little over the top. And while I love the idea of powerful battle unicorns, the fact that these ancient, powerful, inhuman creatures sometimes act like human teenagers was just a little hard for me to buy.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Island of the Stone Boy

115. LT Downing, Island of the Stone Boy

Island of the Stone Boy Ghost stories aren't always my favorite genre, but I was intrigued by the premise of this one: a boy and his mom win an all-expenses-paid exclusive vacation to a new island resort. But Bret starts to get suspicious even before they arrive at the island, when the man paid to ferry them over refuses to do so after getting a look at Bret's mom. He shoves some pamphlets in Bret's hands which explain the myth of a boy who haunts the island after his drowning death in 1968. When Bret discovers that the boy is looking for his mom--and that Bret's mom looks exactly like her--Bret begins to realize that this haunting could be a lot deadlier than he'd supposed.

There are, of course, some subplots involving Bret and his mom recovering from his older sister's death; Bret's dealing with the resort owner's snobbish niece; and Bret's fears that his parents are in the process of divorcing. But the primary story resolves around the haunting. I thought Downing did a nice job with those bits--there were definitely some spooky scenes in the story. I thought Bret's voice as pretty average for middle-grade; clean, but not necessarily distinctive. And not all of the subplots worked for me--I figured out the one involving the owner's niece pretty early on. Still, I think this would be an enjoyable read, particularly for young readers who enjoy being creeped out.

Sunday, November 24, 2013


114. Robison Wells, Blackout

BlackoutI really enjoyed this book--set in a not-so-distant future, a group of teenage terrorists has been attacking targets all across the US, targeting valuable infrastructure, tourist landmarks--anything to raise fear levels. When it becomes apparent that these terrorists possess uncanny abilities, and these abilities are related to a virus that only targets teens, the US government responds by rounding up *all* teenagers, and attempting to recruit those with useful powers. If it sound vaguely X-men-ish, well, it is. But still highly enjoyable for that (or maybe because of that).

The story follows four characters: Alec and Laura, who are part of a terrorist cell, and Aubrey and Jack, former friends who attend a small town high school in rural Utah. Jack is a typical poor kid; Aubrey used to be just the same until she discovered that she could turn invisible--and got recruited by the most powerful girl in the high school. Aubrey's rise to popularity caused a rift between the two, but when both are taken to a government camp, Aubrey pledges to stay with Jack. But when the unthinkable happens and Jack gets sorted into a high-power camp for kids with the virus and Aubrey is let loose, Aubrey risks her life and freedom trying to save Jack.

I've read some reviews that suggest that the alternating POVs get confusing--I never found them so. In fact, I liked getting into the mind of the three characters, though obviously I connected more to Aubrey and Jack than Alec and Laura. The book is setting up a series, so not everything gets explained or resolved in this book (and having read Wells' previous books, I was pretty much expecting this). If I had a complaint, it might be that--as with Variant and Feedback--the focus on an intense, quick-paced plot sometimes overshadows character development. Aubrey was probably the most fleshed-out character here, but all of them could have used a little more depth.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Solstice Magic

Solstice Magic (A Calgary Stampede Adventure, #1)113. Solstice Magic, by Jean Stringam

This book was unlike anything I've read in a long time--in both good and bad ways.

To start: I absolutely loved the setting--a behind-the-scenes look at the Calgary Stampede (rodeo) in Canada. I loved, too all the bits of Ukranian culture the author threw in. The author's writing style also had some lovely and unexpected phrasings.

The plot itself is a little harder to capture. The story opens with a scene at the Stampede, of a bull rider meeting a petite rodeo clown for the first time and realizing that there's something unusual, even magical, about the clown. But then it takes another fifty or so pages to get back to the bull rider and clown. Instead, the story plunges us into the story of Zo and her parents, and how their lives are disrupted by the arrival of Zo's Baba Dolia (and her over-sized pet with killer instincts) from the Ukraine.

Zo's friends and neighbors (Jaki, Ivan, and their own baba, also Ukranian) try to help Zo make sense of her baba's tendency to disapprove of everything Zo does, particularly her obsession with her new rabbit, Susie Lago. But when Susie mysteriously disappears on the night of Solstice and Zo blames her grandma (and her grandma's dog), the two stories start to intersect. I have to admit, the way the stories intersected surprised me, I think in a good way.

But I found the tone to be a little strange. When we initially got to Zo's story, I assumed she was about ten, from the sound of her voice. So I was surprised (unpleasantly this time) to find that she was actually in high school. I think she consistently acts younger. I was also a little disconcerted initially by all the point of view shifts, including the rabbit's (she's determined to be an Easter Bunny).

So not everything here worked for me, but I thought it was worth reading for the intricate setting. And there were some passages near the end from the point of view of Baba Dolia that I thought were sad and lovely and moving. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Siege and Storm

112. Leigh Bardugo, Siege and Storm.

Siege and Storm (The Grisha, #2)I fell in love with Bardugo's Grishaverse in Shadow and Bone, and found much to love in the sequel. It's not perfect, but it's a great sequel and continues a lot of the themes of the first one. Alina and Mal think that they are safely away from Ravka and the reach of the Darkling in a new land. But they find that they cannot run for long, and that the Darkling is far more powerful than they give him credit for.

Brought back (largely against their will) to Ravka, Alina finds that she will  need to summon new reservoirs of power to help fight against the Darkling and lead an army of Grisha against him. But the very power she needs also drives a wedge between her and Mal.

What I love about this series: I love the richly imagined world and the Russian feel of Ravka. And I love that Bardugo doesn't shy away from making Alina make hard choices. I love that Alina herself is complex: sometimes shy, sometimes driven by desire and longing, sometimes funny, often conflicted about what she wants for herself. I don't always love Mal (truth is, I secretly prefer the Darkling, immoral though he might be). And in this new book, I love the new character of Prince Nikolai.

This book is dark, though--and as the second in a trilogy, it definitely does not have happy ending. I really enjoyed it, even if I didn't love it as much as the first book. It's not a perfect book (the middle is slow in parts and sometimes the relationship drama is a bit much), but it has so many good things going for it that I can forgive those.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


111. Dan Wells, Partials.

Fragments (Partials, #2)Lately I seem to have a bad habit of picking up sequels without having read the original book--after reading Fragments, I definitely feel I need to go back and read Partials.

I'm feeling lazy today (also, this book had a complicated plot), so here's the summary from Goodreads:

Kira Walker has found the cure for RM, but the battle for the survival of humans and Partials is just beginning. Kira has left East Meadow in a desperate search for clues to who she is. That the Partials themselves hold the cure for RM in their blood cannot be a coincidence—it must be part of a larger plan, a plan that involves Kira, a plan that could save both races. Her companions are Afa Demoux, an unhinged drifter and former employee of ParaGen, and Samm and Heron, the Partials who betrayed her and saved her life, the only ones who know her secret. But can she trust them?

Meanwhile, back on Long Island, what's left of humanity is gearing up for war with the Partials, and Marcus knows his only hope is to delay them until Kira returns. But Kira's journey will take her deep into the overgrown wasteland of postapocalyptic America, and Kira and Marcus both will discover that their greatest enemy may be one they didn't even know existed.

My take: I thought the book was incredibly well done. It did drag a little in a couple of parts, but given that Kira travels from the East Coast to Colorado, that's not entirely surprising. But mostly I found the novel to be clearly written, fast-paced, and the world built was amazing. Most of the time I find post-apocalyptic stories to be a little depressing or predictable big-brotherish. This was neither. In addition to good storytelling, the book also raises interesting ethical questions about humanity and to what extent it is ethical to save oneself at the expense of others.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Chameleon (Supernaturals, #1) 110. Kelly Oram, Chameleon

I like a good supernatural novel every once in a while (I'm a huge fan of Patricia Briggs' books), and I enjoyed Oram's novel, V is for Virgin. Oram has a great, snappy writing style that's perfectly suited for YA.

That said, I didn't love this book as much as I'd hoped to. Dani Webber is an ordinary girl--a little on the rebellious side, with just one really close friend (a guy)--but she doesn't think there's anything too unusual about that. Until, just after she turns sixteen, her best friend Russ reveals that he's a warlock . . . and then Dani herself stops time at a dance.

Turns out, nothing Dani thought about herself or her life is real. After a werewolf shows up to abduct her, Dani reluctantly agrees to turn herself over to the Council, who regulate supernatural activity. The Council promises to protect her and train her--but after they betray her trust, Dani finds herself struggling to know who to trust:  Russ and his father, Alex, who always treated her like his own daughter, but lied to her for years about her ability? Or the Council who only seem interest in using her unique powers--and who forced her into a marriage against her will to the gentle Seer, Gabriel? Still more questions rise when both Dani and Gabriel see visions of someone trying to raise the Angel of Death (a powerful demon), and they have to unite to try and stop this from every happening.

The plot really has some interesting and engaging ideas. I think what I struggled with was that some of the elements were just too much. The love triangle, for instance. Oram does such a great job making you care about Russ, that when Gabriel gets introduced, it's hard to love him as much--particularly when Dani's situation with Gabriel is something imposed on both of them from the outside. There were also some major plot twists that I saw coming.

The book does read quickly, and, as mentioned above, Oram has a great YA voice. The book is worth reading for the interactions between Dani and Russ alone. So if you have a reasonably high tolerance for dramatic love triangles, you'll probably really enjoy this book. I couldn't get into the love triangle, which ultimately made the book less enjoyable for me.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Wicked

109. Helen Boswell, The Wicked

Mythology: The WickedI was lucky enough to read bits of this as Helen was writing it, but I was thrilled to find out that the whole was much greater than the sum of its parts (and the parts themselves were quite good). This is a sequel to Helen's Mythology, but I think this is one of those unique cases where the sequel is even better than the first novel.

The book opens with Hope and Micah struggling to find a way for Micah to live with his demon status; Micah's values mean that he refuses to steal souls from others, but without this energy, he will die in a matter of years. At the same time, they're drawn into a local conspiracy as young demon boys keep surfacing, dead. As the two struggle to solve this mystery, Hope continues to master her own powers and Micah finds himself as a pawn in still another power-struggle, this time with the powerful Praxidikai, who strive to maintain balance between demons and guardians. All of this sounds like it might be too much, but Helen does such a great job weaving together different storylines.

And at the heart of it all is Micah's relationship with Hope. Where book 1 was from Hope's perspective, book two interweaves Hope and Micah's perspectives. And I have to say, I really love Micah. He's sweet, but real, which means he has flaws--and he makes mistakes with real consequences.

The story itself was fast-paced, the writing generally clean, and the romance itself had some definitely swoon-worthy moments. I really enjoyed this--and I can't wait to read book three! (No pressure, of course, Helen . . . )

Monday, October 21, 2013


108. Julianne Donaldson, Blackmoore

Blackmoore: A Proper Romance I loved Donaldson's debut novel, Edenbrooke, so I was thrilled when my sister loaned me her copy of Donaldson's newest book. And while I'll admit that I like Edenbrooke better, Blackmoore kept me entertained for the last couple of days--and it fulfilled really the only requirement I have for a good romance novel: at some point, my  heart has to hurt. And Blackmoore did that for me.

The story opens with Kate Worthington fretting about an upcoming trip to Blackmoore, the estate caught between the sea and the moors that will someday belong to her childhood friend Henry. She's dreamed about this trip almost her whole life, but now, through her mother's manipulativeness, she may be denied this visit. Desperate to go--and more, to go to India with a maiden aunt after the trip is over--Kate makes a bargain with her mother: she will receive (and reject) three proposals of marriage, or else she will do whatever her mother commands her. Granted, this agreement seems sort of silly (Kate herself realizes quickly how foolish it is), but if you can suspend your disbelief of that for a while, it helps engineer some of the most interesting tension of the novel.

The novel is a little slow getting going, as we only gradually realize why Kate is so set against marriage through a series of flashbacks in the middle of the story. This novel is darker than Edenbrooke, as Kate's family is particularly wretched. Maybe the setting lends itself to that impression too, as the moors encourage Kate to a wildness she didn't realize she had.

I liked the central tension between Kate and the main love interest (I won't name names, though it's pretty clear early on who this will be)--but I loved the setting. And, as an amateur birder myself, I loved the recurring bird motif throughout the book. I didn't love the ending, which seemed to resolve pretty quickly (particularly in comparison with how slowly the early part of the book unfolded), but the romance itself was satisfying to me.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Navigating Early

107. Clare Vanderpool, Navigating Early

Vanderpool won the Newberry award for her debut novel, Moon over Manifest, so I was of course interested in reading her newest novel. And if I didn't love it as much as Moon over Manifest, it was still a lovely, engrossing story.

Navigating EarlyJack Baker is struggling to find his footing in an all boy's school in Maine in the mid 1940s, following the death of his mother and his removal from the Kansas plains he's known all his life. At his new school, he meets Early Auden, the only boy at the school even more of an outcast than Jack himself. Early is some kind of mathematic genius who sees numbers in colors and patterns and who is obsessed with the number pi. He shows up for class only when he wants to, and for the most part, the other students leave him alone. But Jack finds himself drawn to Early. And when the two of them are the only students left at the school for their fall break, Early and Jack take a daring trip up the Appalachian Trail in pursuit of the Great Appalachian Bear and the number pi. What they find on their trip (including pirates!) is beyond both of their wildest expectations . . .

Things I loved: I loved the voice of this novel, and the loving detail that Vanderpool gives to imagining her characters, particularly Early Auden (who we would today recognize as autistic, but back then was merely considered strange). And I loved how what was ultimately an adventure story proved to have so many layers. No character, no matter how seemingly minor, was incidental to the plot--Vanderpool wove the different characters together in wonderful and surprising ways.

The only thing I didn't particularly like was the story of Pi--Vanderpool alternates some of the chapters with the story Early  makes up about pi. And while I see the symbolic parallels between the story of pi and the adventure Early and Jack were living, I still couldn't get into the parallel stories.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Blood Moon

106. Blood Moon, by Teri Harman

Blood Moon (The Moonlight Trilogy, #1) Willa has always known there was something different about her, starting with her weird, almost prophetic dreams and her best friend--who happens to be a ghost. But she doesn't think much of it, until she meets Simon, and they are immediately drawn together by a power that's more than just physical magnetism. Simon, too, has a secret: he has a powerful ability to heal living creatures. When Willa and Simon save a woman from being tortured in the basement of an abandoned house that belonged to one of the town's founders, they discover that they are both witches, and heir to a powerful legacy begun by the town's founders. It's not long before they are drawn into danger and have to make a decision--do they embrace who they are and fight this great evil, or walk away and hope to reclaim their former lives.

I really went back and forth on this book. I like the magic system here quite a bit. Harman has devised six different branches of witchcraft, and twelve witches (a man and woman from each branch) together are capable of forming a Covenant--a particularly powerful union of Covens. The story also flashes back to a catastrophe that happened decades earlier in the town, and I found myself increasingly intrigued by the historical figures. To be honest, sometimes I was more interested in what was happening to these minor characters (perhaps because there remained a big mystery about them) than I was with what was happening to Willa and Simon. While I liked Willa and Simon well enough as individual characters, I didn't love the fact that theirs was a kind of insta-love--the fact that they were drawn so powerfully to each other by magic seemed to rob their relationship of individual choice (and a lot of romantic tension). The writing style was a little uneven too: some of the descriptions, particularly, were lovely--well-written and vivid. But at other times the prose seemed almost over-written, as if it could have benefited from just a little more pruning. There were a few typos in the book, which I often don't notice (I read quickly), but were sometimes enough to pull me out of the story.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Abby Road

105. Abby Road, by Ophelia London
Abby Road
I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I picked up this book, about a celebrity musician whose personal life is spiraling downward after the unexpected death of her brother. When we first meet Abigail Kelly, she's just about hit rock bottom. Her manager has given her an unexpected summer off to recuperate, so she heads to South Florida to stay with her sister. There, she meets Todd--and falls into a romance she wasn't expecting and wasn't looking for. But just as their relationship seems to be taking off, Abby gets swept back up in her music career. As Todd gets increasingly frustrated by the difference in Abby--particularly the way she lets her creative judgment be overriden by her overbearing manager--Abby finds she may have to make a choice between the two things she loves best in her life.

I think what I liked best about this book is the glimpse into Abby's life as a musician and the creative energy that drives her. The romance, for me, had some ups and downs. Initially Todd seemed almost too perfect--and then over the course of the novel he makes some decisions and acts in ways that seemed abrupt and a little inexplicable (though they were explained later). But I liked how real Abby was and I enjoyed following her journey to find herself. The writing style, too, was clear and enjoyable. Overall, I'd say it's a fun, fairly clean romance. Not perfect, but a fast, enjoyable read.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


I'm feeling lazy today, apparently, because I'm going to post three reviews in one. All are by LDS authors, and all are young adult speculative books, but aside from that there is not a lot linking the books together. 

103. Tamara Hart Heiner, Inevitable
InevitableAside from a lovely cover, this book had an interesting premise--Jayne can See people who are about to die violent deaths, presaged by the strong smell of lemons. Though she has tried in the past to alter these deaths, she's mostly been unsuccessful. So when she smells the scent of lemon on her younger sister, she does her best to avoid eye contact with her sister, hoping to avoid the knowledge of her sister's death. And when she meets a hot new British student at her high school, Aaron, who smells strongly of lemon, she does her best to avoid him, too.

But the complications in her personal life pale when Jayne Sees the death of a young woman at the hands of a local serial killer--and sees the face of the killer himself. Now Jayne has to decide how involved she wants to be--and how to convince the local police that she isn't, in fact, crazy, without risking her life or the lives of those close to her.

Like I said, the concept, I think, is great. My problem was that I had a hard time relating to Jayne--initially, her passiveness drove me crazy. Why *wouldn't* she just meet her sister's eyes? Even if she hasn't been able to prevent deaths in the past, maybe she could do something about her sister. (If it were me, I would). It also wasn't until half-way through the book that we found out Jayne really *had* tried in the past to prevent deaths (up to that point, all readers see is Jayne saying that she can't do anything. It was hard for me to believe this without seeing it.) And then there was Aaron--Jayne kept blowing hot and cold about him, but he remained steadily interested in ways that didn't quite make sense to me. And what guy would keep pursuing a girl who wouldn't make eye contact with him for days at a time? I get why Jayne didn't want to See his death, but I didn't get why Aaron kept after her, when all he got was a brush-off.

After the action picked up in the middle of the book, I stopped being so irritated by character flaws and actually enjoyed the end of the book.

104. (Review from Goodreads): Seventeen-year-old Abigail Johnson is Gifted.

Blessed—or cursed—with Sight and Healing, Abby lives an unsettled life, moving from place to
place and staying one step ahead of the darkness that hunts her. When she arrives in Jackson, Wyoming, she is desperate to maintain the illusion of normalcy, but she is plagued with visions of past lives mixed with frightening glimpses of her future. Then she meets Kye, a mysterious boy who seems so achingly familiar that Abby is drawn to him like he’s a missing piece of her own soul.

Before Abby can discover the reason for her feelings toward Kye, the darkness catches up to her and she is forced to flee again. But this time she’s not just running. She is fighting back with Kye at her side, and it’s not just Abby’s life at stake.
I'm a sucker for this kind of book (provided it's well written): an interesting blend of mythology and contemporary setting. I loved the unfolding relationship between Abby and Kye and the mythological elements were interesting. I was not as enamored with the historical flashbacks that provided readers with an explanation of why Abby and Kye were bound together, and what they were fighting against. (I suppose it's because I didn't have the same connection to the historical characters). The writing was generally good and the plot fast-paced.

105. Heather Ostler, Siren's Secret.

This wasn't my favorite book that I've read recently. While there is a lot of potential in the story, it didn't quite live up to that potential for me. This is the second book in a series--in the first book, Julia Levesque discovered she was a shapeshifter, a werecat, and that her family was part of a royal line of another kingdom. She left her home in the US and travelled to a special school for werecats in Ossia, her new home. In book two, Julia's position in Ossia is threatened as she makes a new discovery about her identity--that she might be part siren. Since sirens are feared and ostracized in Ossia, this is a discovery she must hide at all costs, even as it begins to threaten her ability to shapechange. To keep things complicated, she also has to help her father and friends fight off the looming threat of her evil mother.

This was another case where I had a hard time with the main character because she was sometimes irrational. Sometimes she was passive--for instance, she finds out that she's cursed and instead of trying to fight it or find a cure, she just accepts it and starts moping. But in other cases, she acts quickly (often rashly) without thinking things through and she blows hot and cold in her relationships (both with friends and romantic). And maybe this is authentic teenage behavior, but I've read lots of teenage heroines who don't rub me quite the wrong way as much as Julia did. Lots of readers seem to have really enjoyed this book, so it's possible that it's just me.

Ashes on the Waves

Ashes on the Waves 102. In the relatively crowded world of paranormal YA, Mary Lindsey's Ashes on the Waves stands out in a good way. Based loosely on Poe's "Annabel Lee," this novel is told from the POV of the male hero, Liam MacGregor, who's always been considered an outcast on his island, off the coast of Maine. Because the island is quite remote, it lacks a lot of modern amenities, which gives the whole story a more old-fashioned feel, though it is contemporary. All his life, Liam has remembered the kindness of Anna Leighton, daughter of a wealthy family who owns a summer home on the island. When Anna shows up on the island to hide out after receiving negative press in the tabloids, Liam falls for her again--only this time as an adult.

But of course, true love never does run smooth, and in their case, things are complicated by a bet between the island's Otherworlders, testing the couple's love. While I liked both Liam and Anna, I think my favorite part of the story was the Poe angle (Lindsey includes quotes from Poe at the beginning of each chapter), closely followed by the rich Celtic mythology. Lovely, chilling, spooky. The only thing I didn't particularly love was the ending, but if you've read the poem Annabel Lee, it won't come as too big of a shock.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Global Mom

101. Melissa Dalton Bradford, Global Mom.

I'm hesitant to write a review for this book, because I don't think my words will be adequate to the experience of reading the book. I've meet Melissa a few times in real life, and while I was struck by her intelligence and poise, I had no idea that so much was simmering in that brain of hers.

Global Mom tells the extraordinary story of their family, as they adapt to living in first Norway, then Versailles, stateside, then back in France, in Paris. To this point, it's really Melissa's extraordinary voice and observations that make the story: seeing her persepectives on the cultural differences (and the challenges of raising young children in each culture) was fascinating.

Global Mom: Eight Countries, Sixteen Addresses, Five Languages, One FamilyAnd then tragedy strikes. (Note: this isn't a spoiler--it's a central part of the story). That I knew the tragedy was coming because I've read some of Melissa's writings on the topic in no way made the event less poignant. Melissa's oldest son, Parker, dies in a tragic accident at age 18. And from that point on, the story is shot through with grief, and the struggle to make sense of such an earth-shattering event. No matter where her family lives after that (Munich, Hong Kong, Geneva), what they experience is not just a new location, but an extension of the landscape of grief.

More than anything, this book has me thinking about place: about how place is made up of landscape (built and natural), but also history and culture and most of all people, and the relationships among people.

And of course, I'm still thinking about some of the gorgeous prose passages. Melissa's voice is really quite astounding at times: she comes across as warm, gracious, intelligent, thoughtful, generous and deeply philosophical. Here are two of my favorite passages (if among some of the most devastating):

And as his head tipped gracefully to one side, the earth fell off its axis and began spinning strangely, drunkenly, into unchartable and inaccessible regions out of which only a God can escape, or from which only a God can rescue.
This land of major loss was uncharted terrain, a land with its own language of silence. It was something more than a country, it was its own planet with its own air pressure and gravitational pull.
Other readers have parted out that there are two different parts of the story: before and after Parker's death. While this is true, the experience before his death is intimately tied up with its aftermath. Their rich family life underscores the depth of the tragedy.

After reading this book, there's a significant part of me that wishes I could provide this kind of rich international experience for my children, but honesty compels me to admit that I wouldn't reap nearly the harvest from it that Melissa has (nor would I willingly pay the price she has).

This was the best kind of book: it made me think, it made me weep, but it also made me hopeful.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Joan Bauer, Close to Famous

Close to Famous 100. Joan Bauer, Close to Famous

I've been reading a lot of great middle grade books this week (next up, Clare Vanderpol's latest . . .). I think good middle grade is harder to do than it looks, and I thought this book did an excellent job of presenting real-life problems from the perspective of a twelve-year-old. More than that, Bauer took a wide cast of characters and issues, and deftly wove them all together, so that by the end we were cheering for more than just the main character.

Twelve-year-old Sutton Foster is on the run with her Mama, after her Mama's ex-boyfriend, an Elvis impersonater by the name of Huck, hits her. They wind up in the unprepossessing town of Culpepper, a town run-down and discouraged by the presence of a near-by prison (which promised to bring in jobs for the town, but has so far only succeeded in ruining morale). There, the generosity of strangers induces them to stay, and before long Sutton is cooking up her famous cupcakes for a local restaurant and running errands for Miss Charleena, a former Hollywood star. Seems like everyone in town has a dream: Mama dreams of singing on the stage, Sutton wants to be the first Food Network child host, tiny Macon wants to be a documentary filmmaker (and tell the story of the prison's broken promises). But dreams are complicated things, and it will take a lot of work for this crowd to start realizing those dreams.

I think what I liked best about the story--besides the honesty of Sutton's voice--is the way that everyone seemed to have a "superpower," that they were able to use at just the right moment to help someone else. I liked, too, that Sutton and her mom weren't perfect, but they had a warm relationship.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Zero Tolerance

98. Claudia Mills, Zero Tolerance

Zero Tolerance I thought this book was charming--not least because I identified with the main character, Sierra Shephard, an honor roll student who has never been in trouble in school in her life (and who probably goes out of her way to make sure teachers like her). Luckily for Sierra (and for us), her life takes a dramatic turn when she accidentally brings her mother's lunch to school, including the paring knife her mother brought. Problem is, Sierra's school has a zero tolerance policy for weapons, which means automatic expulsion. Sierra tries to do the right thing, by turning in the knife the instant she notices it. But even this well-meaning act lands her in in-school suspension. Unfortunately, Sierra's big-time-lawyer father makes things even worse by trying to force the principal to back down by bringing the event to the notice of local and national media. The harder he pushes, the more the principal is forced to take a stand on his own policy, even when Sierra is the innocent victim of the policy.

While Sierra waits for the outcome of her hearing, she worries about the things she's missing in class. And she worries about not being able to spend more time with Colin, her current crush. And she worries about the people she has to spend time with in suspension, including Luke, a boy she's never had much use for. But as the story unfolds, Sierra begins to learn surprising things about her friends, herself, her parents, and even people as unpromising as Luke.

The story was well-told, and Sierra's agony was so perfectly presented that I almost felt like I was back in middle school again. (Almost, but not quite, thankfully).

The Keeper's Quest

97. The Keeper's Quest, Kelly Nelson

The Keeper's Quest is second in a series of books featuring Chase Harper, who has discovered that he is a Keeper, someone charged to keep safe a counter that lets him travel through time, and to use his abilities to protect the innocent.

The Keeper's Quest (The Keeper's Saga, #2)To me, this seemed to suffer from the same problem that many second books do: the first book has a clear story arc, but the second is tasked with setting up the crisis of the third book, and so the plot struggles to find its footing for a while. (Then, too, I have to admit I have not read the first book in this series, which might explain why I had trouble connecting to the characters as quickly).

In this book, Chase has managed to save the life of Ellie, a girl he loves and rescued from the 19th century, and while she adjusts to life in the twenty-first century, Chase goes on a couple of short missions--to 1817, to work on the Erie Canal and earn money to pay Ellie's hospital bills, and to the 1940s, to rescue a fellow Keeper from the Nazis. But it's not until 2/3 of the way through the book, when Chase stumbles into a Sniffer's plot (the Sniffers are minions of the Keepers' nemesis, who sends Sniffers out to find and destroy them), that things really start happening. Prior to that, the plot feels like it's just filling time, with one thing after another, rather than having a central conflict (something Chase wants, but must fight against odds to have).

While I think that the Keeper/time travel concept is interesting, I think the book as a whole would have been stronger if the first part were edited more, to get to the central conflict more quickly.

Then again, lots of Goodreads reviewers loved this book, so maybe it's just me . . .

Monday, September 23, 2013


96. Guardians, by Heather Frost

Guardians is the conclusion to Frost's Seers trilogy, so if you haven't read the previous books, I apologize in advance for any inadvertent spoilers!

At the end of the previous book, Demons, Patrick has a vision where he sees Kate, the seer he loves, dying. Guardians opens with Patrick determined to protect Kate at all costs--even if his protection means that Kate is unable to help defeat the Demon Lord.

Guardians (Seers, #3)This book started off quite slowly, I thought. For all the talk at the beginning of the book about how much danger everyone is in, there's little actual threat in their day-to-day life, and Patrick, Kate, Kate's friend Lee, and Kate's twin sisters go about their daily business much as usual--although the looming threat does intensify when Kate discovers that the Demon Lord has put a million dollar bounty on her head.

Luckily, the last third of the book is much better than the first two-thirds. After a failed attempt to kill the Demon Lord, Kate finds herself and her family surrounded by enemies. The peril this time is very real and the pacing of the plot moves swiftly toward the end. A few plot moments were even genuinely shocking.

At the end, though, I was a little disappointed that some of the real peril was resolved with less consequence than their could (should?) have been. And while I liked the characters, I didn't love them--for one thing, I started to get annoyed at how often Patrick and Kate told each other what wonderful people they were. I'd rather *see* their wonderful characters in action than hear, again, about how virtuous/smart/brave etc. they are.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Caged Graves

95. Dianne K. Salerni, The Caged Graves

The Caged GravesI don't know where I first heard of Dianne Salerni's new book, The Caged Graves, but I remember being fascinated by this historical novel inspired by a real-life occurrence: the existence of "caged" graves in a cemetery in Catawissa, PA. After discovering the graves, Salerni searched to find the mystery as to why the cages were placed around the grave, to no avail. This novel is one possible answer.

I have to say that this is my favorite book that I've read in some time. I love historical novels to begin with, and this nineteenth-century story had everything I love: interesting historical details, realistic characters, a wonderful romance, mystery, and just enough hints of the occult to give the story flavor.

Seventeen-year-old Verity Boone's homecoming to Catawissa, PA, is nothing like she expected. Nate McClure, the young man she's become engaged to via corresponance, does not match the picture his letters created in her mind. Her father seems distant and uncomfortable with her. And worst of all, she's discovered that the mother who died when she was a toddler has been buried in unhallowed ground outside the cemetery walls--with a cage over her gravesite. No one can tell her why, exactly--she hears wild stories ranging from grave robbers to dead that refuse to stay put. Verity is equal parts horrified and determined to solve the mystery of her mother's sudden death and burial, alongside that of her mother's young sister-in-law, a strange young woman from an outcast family who died the same day as her mother.

As Verity comes to know more about her town, she encounters both prejudice and unexpected kindness and heroism. Her mother's death seems somehow bound up in rumors of Revolutionary War-era gold treasure and witchcraft. As Verity pieces through the mystery, she also has to sort through her own feelings. Does she love Nate McClure enough to marry him--or is the young doctor whose flirtations make her heart flutter the real partner for her?

Sometimes in novels I find love triangles annoying, but Salerni presents this one so well--both young men are truly likeable characters, and Verity's confusion and distress in trying to figure out her heart are realistic. And while I figured out the mystery behind her mother's death pretty early on, there were other twists in the plot that I did not see coming. Salerni does a wonderful job of combining lovable characters, setting, and intriguing plotlines into a great story.

This isn't the kind of book that makes you muse for days after reading it, but if you're just looking for a wonderful, heart-warming story, this could be it.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Marissa Meyer, Scarlet

Scarlet (Lunar Chronicles, #2)94. I loved Marissa Meyer's Cinder, but I was hesitant about the sequel because, well, most sequels, particularly in multi-volume trilogies, suffer by comparison. And while the plot here was not as tight as Cinder, I found that I did enjoy this book quite a bit.

The story begins with Cinder being held prisoner, awaiting delivery to the Lunar Queen, Levana. Meanwhile, in far-away France, Scarlet Benoit is searching to find her grandmother, who disappeared without warning three weeks ago. Cinder manages to escape with a charming criminal, and Scarlet finds herself in the company of the enigmatic wolf, on her way to Paris in pursuit of her grandmother. Cinder's story here was a little slow--mostly it's a traditional sort of escape narrative. Scarlet's story, on the other hand, was dramatic and romantic and at times heart-breaking.

It took me a while to warm to Scarlet's story, mostly because when I picked up the story I was most interested in following Cinder and Emperor Kai. But before long, I was equally caught up in Scarlet's story. It's not a perfect story, by any means. But I found it interesting and absorbing and I'm eager to find where the series takes the characters next.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Patricia Briggs, Frost Burned

Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson, #7) 93. I've enjoyed all of Patricia Brigg's Mercy Thompson books--and this one was no exception. I was first drawn to this urban fantasy series because of the setting (I have family who live in the Tri-Cities area of eastern Washington--and my mom grew up not far from there), but it's hard not to love Mercy, who's fierce and smart and loyal and vulnerable in surprising ways.

Frost Burned opened with Mercy shopping with her step-daughter Jesse at Black Friday sales. And yes, it's just as funny as it sounds. The humor doesn't last, though, after Mercy and Jesse are involved in a minor car accident--when Mercy tries to contact someone in her husband's werewolf pack to find them up, she can't find anyone. And when she reaches through the pack bonds to find Adam, all she knows is that he's hurt.

Turns out, the pack has been kidnapped--and the kidnappers aren't above targeting the pack's loved ones as well. Desperate to find Adam before things get worse, Mercy turns to an unlikely group of allies to help her.

The last few Mercy books have been a bit slow--still good, but not as as tight as I'd like--this one, however, is Briggs back at the top of her form. Maybe it was because the danger this time was so personal, or because the villains were unexpectedly interesting . . . I'm not sure. But this one is definitely a keeper.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Yiddish Policeman's Union

92. Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union. I've wanted to read this book for years, ever since hearing an NPR interview with the author. When I finally sat down to read it, I wasn't disappointed, although I'm not even sure how to begin summarizing the book.

The Yiddish Policemen's UnionMeyer Landsmen is a Jewish policeman who's considerably down on his luck: he's divorced, living in a dump, self-medicating with alcohol, and the entire government system he works for may no longer exist in two months. See, Landsmen lives in Sitka, Alaska, home to a couple million Jews who were relocated there after the Jewish settlement in Israel failed in the late 1940s.

Then Landsmen gets called in to investigate a homicide in his building--and is almost as quickly called off the case. But Landsmen is drawn by something--perversity? a sense of kinship because the deceased was in the midst of a chess game when he died? It's hard to tell. In any case, Landsmen risks his life, his livelihood, and everything he has (not that it's all that much) to try and crack the case. And the more he unravels, the more unlikely the case begins to seem.

But it wasn't so much the mystery that pulled me through the novel, it was Chabon's prose, his gift for describing characters and scenes in a way that made this improbably Jewish colony in Alaska seem real. Even if, by the end, the descriptive detail began to feel overwhelming, I still found myself admiring its artistry.

This is not a novel for everyone. It's quirky, frequently vulgar, with a sometimes bewilderingly vast cast of characters. But it is also fascinating, funny, and a very empathetic look at some very screwed up people.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


91. Wrapped, by Jennifer Bradbury.

Wrapped (Wrapped, #1)I really wanted to love this book. A regency era historical novel, with a bluestocking, Egyptian mummies, *and* spies? How could I not like that?

And it does start out promising. Near the beginning of her London Season, Agnes Wilkins attends an "unwrapping" party at the home of a wealthy neighbor with interests in Egyptology. As each guest is given a turn to "unwrap" part of the mummy to find the trinkets buried with the body, Agnes finds herself pocketing the trinket she uncovers, for no reason she can articulate. This act propels her into a new world, one filled with spies and secrets and handsome young men like Caedmon, who works at the British Museum, and, like Agnes, dreams of a life that's much bigger than the one he has.

I suppose one of my issues was that the Regency setting felt . . . off. While I would like to cheer for a bluestocking, Agnes just felt a little too progressive: even with the support of devoted parents, it seems unlikely to me that a 17 year would know as many languages as Agnes did; it also seemed unlikely that she would be so aware of the subtle critiques built into Jane Austen's novels. And while I liked that Agnes questioned some of the cultural politics involved in the artifact trade, so much of her behavior seemed out of character for a gently bred young lady. I'm all for progressive women; I just wish Agnes didn't feel quite so much like a modern girl placed in a historical setting.

Aside from that, the book was fun: the writing was solid, the pacing was good, and the love-interest well-done. The ending may have been a bit predictable, but the angle on the story did at least feel new.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Boy on the Bridge

90. Natalie Standiford, The Boy on the Bridge

I have to admit--when I first saw this book, I thought it was an attempt to capitalize on the success of the delightful Anna and the French Kiss--you know, girl meets exotic boy in strange country and falls in love with him and the country. I loved Anna, and figured the formula was strong enough that even if the book was predictable and formulaic, it would still be enjoyable.

Sometimes it's nice to be mistaken.

The Boy on the BridgeThis book was definitely not what I expected--but I think that's a good thing. The story follows Laura, a college sophomore living and studying in Russia for six months in 1982, during the height of the Cold War. Because the Russian government was suspicious of Americans, she and her fellow students are closely watched: they are expected to keep curfew in their dorms and only associate with "approved" Russians.

An unexpected encounter on a bridge introduces Laura to Alyosha, and the next part of the story is inevitable: as they spend time together, they begin to fall in love. And Alyosha is a perfect love interest: good-looking, smart, soulful, humorous, and a lover of poetry. But at this point, the story began to veer into unexpected territory. Laura begins to wonder if Alyosha is using her to get a green card to the United States, and both she and Alyosha discover that the reach of the KGB is farther and more insidious than they had expected.

The political complications of the novel make something that could have been light and fluffy (ala Anna and the French Kiss) into something more: something lyrical and bitter-sweet. The writing here was beautiful and I loved the sense that I had, in fact, been transported to another country.

I did not love the ending, but I don't want to spoil the book by saying anything more than that.

I would also add that this book seems much more New Adult than Young Adult to me--the protagonists are in their late teens/early twenties and some of the issues of the book are issues not likely to occur with high school students studying abroad.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Hen of the Baskervilles

Hen of the Baskervilles (Meg Langslow, #15)89. I've loved Donna Andrews' wacky mysteries for years, since discovering her marvelous Murder with Peacocks. In this newest Meg Langslow mystery, all the usual elements are there: unpleasant character found murdered, suspects abound, and a unique setting--this time, the Un-Fair (basically a county fair) that Meg is helping to run. (Actually, given that this is Meg, she's basically running the fair. In theory she does have a co-chair).

Andrews' mysteries are consistently fun and smart and this was no exception. I found, though, that I was less interested in the mystery than I was in Meg's shenanigans--in particular, her and her husband's new-found fascination for heirloom breeds of animals. The descriptions of the fair were among the best parts of the novel. I found, too, that I missed much of Meg's extended family (her father, Rose Noire, cousin Horace) who showed up only for brief glimpses. Instead we got treated to some Shifleys, who, while interesting, can't hold a candle to Meg's family.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Twelve Clues of Christmas, Her Royal Spyness #6

The Twelve Clues of Christmas (Her Royal Spyness Mysteries, #6)88. The Twelve Clues of Christmas, Rhys Bowen

I'm a fan of a good cozy mystery series, and I've enjoyed this series quite a bit. They aren't particularly profound, but Georgie is good company (smart, nice, doesn't take herself too seriously) and her romance with Darcy has kept my interest over the series.

This newest installment is no exception. Georgie, faced with the horrifying prospect of Christmas at Castle Rannoch with her nearest and not-so-dearest, decides instead to answer an ad for a woman looking for an upper-class hostess for her Christmas party. This party coincidentally happens to be in the same quaint village where her mother is holed up for the holidays with playwright Noel Coward (with Georgie's grandfather serving as butler).

The houseparty is the usual mix of social oddities: an American family, an older countess, a smattering of odd relatives--and Darcy (coincidentally a cousin of the family). The holiday looks to be nearly perfect, until a series of unexplained--and seemingly accidental--deaths, one each day, start occurring. The police are mystified, as is Georgie, but when the deaths continue, someone has to take charge, and so, with her usual aplomb, Georgie does so.

My favorite part of this story was probably the details about an old-fashioned upper-class Christmas, followed by the subplot with Georgie and Darcy. I figured out the killer about 2/3 of the way through (thought it took me longer to figure out the motive).

A light, enjoyable read.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Ruta Sepetys, Out of the Easy

Out of the Easy87. Ruta Sepetys' second YA novel, Out of the Easy, was unlike most of the YA novels I've read recently. And that's a good thing. Her novel, set in 1950s New Orleans, is a fascinating glimpse into a different world. Josie Moraine has made something approaching a life for herself, working at a local book shop and, after hours, cleaning the brothel where her mother works. But Josie wants out--she's tired of people making assumptions about her based on what they know of her mother, and she wants to make something more of her life. She dreams about attending college in New England, but she doesn't have the money or the connections to do so. But when a customer in the bookstore winds up dead, Josie suspects there's more to his death than meets the eye. As she works to unravel what's really going on, she finds the courage to work towards her own dreams as well.

The two best things about this novel are the fascinating characters and the detailed setting. I was impressed with Sepetys' research for this novel--evident in so many of the little details of the setting. Josie is the kind of character you can't help loving, and she's surrounded by a memorable cast of characters, many of whom surprised me. Given the murder mystery element of the plot, the plot moved surprisingly slowly. That wasn't a problem for me, because I was more interested in seeing how the characters interacted, but readers who go into this expecting a more plot-driven story might be disappointed.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Elite

The Elite (The Selection, #2)86. The Elite, by Kiera Cass

I read the Selection back when it was first released, largely because of it's pretty cover. (Also, and let's be honest here, because I liked the idea of a Bachelor meets dystopian world concept). I didn't love that book, but I was interested enough to read the sequel.

This book frustrated the heck out of me. I came close to quitting it several times, but I'm just interested enough in the characters to persist.

In Book 1, we meet America, a reluctant entrant into the Selection, the bachelor-style event where the Prince of Illea (future-day America, after being conquered by China, then re-taken by Americans and turned into a monarchy) chooses  his princess from among the populace. America is a 5 (out of 8 castes, one being the King's family), and the lowest of the contestants. She also happened to be deeply in love with a level 6 boy, Aspen.

Book two finds America one of the final six contestants, falling more deeply in love with Prince Maxon, while still meeting secretly with Aspen (who is now a guard in the palace). Here's where it gets tricky: one of the things I *did* like is that the author honestly makes America's choice an agonizing one for her. She has to make a choice, but she's dragging her feet because she cares too much for both boys to willingly hurt either. I think this is a realistic dilemma.

But then this book drags this dilemma out--America makes up her mind in favor of one boy, only to receive new information (not always accurate) that makes her change her mind and cozy up to the other boy. Over and over again. To make matters worse, if she gets caught with Aspen, the punishment could be fatal. The chicken in me hated the way she casually risked her safety and Aspen's safety so they could steal time together, even while I realize it's sort of a necessary plot device.

Some of the revolutionary subplots had the potential to be interesting, but they seem like an afterthought: the real focus here is on America's love affair and what choice she will make. Much as I disliked this particular book, there's a very good chance that I'll read the final (I hope) book in the series, because I'm curious to see how the author resolves her triangle, and also to see if anything noteworthy happens with the revolutions.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Iron Wyrm Affair

The Iron Wyrm Affair (Bannon & Clare, #1)85. I started this book expecting to love it--after all, alternative history/steampunk fantasy set in Victorian England? Some of my favorite things.

And there is a lot to like about it: the alternating viewpoint characters, Emma Bannon and Archibald Clair are interesting in their own right, though Emma is a much stronger character. Emma is a sorcerous Prime at the top of her game, with a troubled history and difficulty trusting others. Clair is drawn into Emma's orbit when she's ordered to protect him, after an inexplicable string of mentath (super-genius) deaths in the city. Not coincidentally, Clair is a mentath (if unregistered) and his greatest fear is boredom. He is, as other reviewers have noticed, a thinly-veiled nod to Sherlock Holmes, though somewhat less interesting.

The writing is decent, too,-the author knows how to pace things, how to set a visually intricate scene, and her magic system is interesting and complex. I also liked the alternative vision of London (here, Londinium), and Victoria as Victrix, the current incarnation of Britannia (an ageless spirit of the realm who inhabits each reigning monarch in turn). Some reviewers have complained that there's not enough explanation or context for the  magic in the world, but I actually liked that. I'd rather puzzle out what something is than be slapped in the face with the explanation.

Despite all these good things, I didn't love the book and I've been trying to puzzle out why. I think it's may be this: in some scenes, there's almost too much description--some of it is lovely and lavish, but occasionally it obscures the action. Some parts are distinctly purple. Second, the plot proceeds at such a break-neck pace that there aren't a lot of quiet moments where I felt I got into the characters' heads. I think I wanted more bonding time with the characters, more time to love them, not just admire their bravery.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Kasie West, Pivot Point

Pivot Point (Pivot Point, #1)84. I really enjoyed Kasie West's debut novel, Pivot Point. There's a lot to love about it, starting with the engaging premise: Addison Coleman lives in a top-secret community in the contemporary US that's a haven for people with advanced mind abilities: telepathy, persuasion (her mom's ability), the ability to detect any lie (her dad's), and many more. Addie herself has something much rarer: she's a Clairvoyant (technically: Divergent) who, when faced with a decision in her life, can "search" along two alternate pathways. Her Searches feel so real to her that it's as if she's lived these alternative lives, which can be awkward, for example, when Addie's pressed to give a reason why she said no to a guy who just wanted to ask her out. But for the most part, her searches have been over minor decisions: go out with this guy? Study this subject?

Until she comes home to find her parents are divorcing, and she has to choose. Normally, this might be hard, but not impossible. But Addie's dad is leaving the compound--if Addie chooses to go with him, she has to choose to masquerade as Normal and leave all her high-tech gadgets behind her.

The book follows Addie on two alternating paths (alternating chapter by chapter): one is her real life, the other is a Search--but you don't find out which is which until the very end. It's to West's credit that she keeps both story lines compelling and engaging, and it's easy to see the overlaps between the two alternating realities. And while romance features prominently in both lines (different boys, of course), romance isn't the only--or even the main--plot point for the books.

One of the things that made the story work for me was how much I liked the characters, especially Addie. Unlike so many heroines in paranormal romances (and elsewhere) these days, Addie wasn't extreme: she wasn't particularly brave, or kick-ass, or confrontational, or rule-breaking . . . she was just Addie. I think that made her more relatable for me.

The story isn't particularly deep: but it's fun, fast, interesting, and--maybe more importantly--doesn't feel like a lot of other books out there. Highly recommended for YA fans.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Helen Boudreau, Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe Rings

83. Helen Boudreau, Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe Rings

Thirteen-year-old Jade has just had the worst day of her life. It's been approximately one year since her mother drowned, and just when it seems like things might be getting back to normal, she has a day like this: her period (her first ever) starts while she's trying on bathing suits at the mall (a task that would try most people, particularly Jade, who isn't-exactly-skinny). Then, when trying to buy feminine products at the mall drug store, who should she run into but her dad--and the cute boy who goes to her school, with whom Jade has an awkward social history. After a day like that, all Jade wants it to relax in a hot bath.

She must have zoned out for a little, because when she wakes up she discovers that it is actually possible for her day to get worse: in place of human legs, she now sports a pair of mermaid fins.

As Jade tries to get accustomed to her changing body, she has to navigate rough spots in her friendships (her best friend thinks she's acting weird--which she is--but Jade can't tell her the truth as to why she keeps unexpectedly bailing on activities), a possible romance with Luke, the cute boy who unaccountably seems interested, and figure out what *really* happened to her mother that day last summer.

Other reviewers have noted that the book has some cliched characters: the missing mother, the cute boy who likes an ordinary girl, the evil girl at school who's trying to steal the best friend, even the overly-perky best friend. All these are true.

But what saved the book for me was the voice: Jade has such a great, funny, quirky voice that you can't help liking her, and cheering for her.

The book straddles an awkward sort of gap between middle grade and YA--some of the topics (periods, kisses, etc.) are more YA than middle grade, but Jade's voice seems closer to a middle grade voice for me.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

82. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

Gone GirlIn some ways, this book deserves all the hype it's gotten: it's fast-paced, the writing is brilliant, and Flynn has a knack for getting you inside her character's heads--even when the inside of their heads is not somewhere you want to be.

That said, I personally found some of the directions the novel takes so disturbing that there were parts I skimmed over. Days later, I find myself still thinking about the characters in not-entirely-comfortable ways.

Some readers love this kind of novel; I don't, particularly.

There is some language and other graphic encounters.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Transparent, Natalie Whipple

81. If you've never read Natalie Whipple's blog--you should do so. Right now. Especially if you see yourself as an aspiring writer of any type. Her blog is refreshingly honest--and funny. Plus, she does her own anime art.

Her debut novel, Transparent, came out earlier this year. Transparent tells the story of Fiona McClean, a young woman born into a crime syndicate run by her father, in a dystopian world where much of the population has some kind of mutation. All her life, Fiona's aspired primarily to make her father happy (a unique effect he has on women). And for Fiona, this means lying, stealing--using her unique abilities to do things no one else can do.

Because Fiona is invisible. Even she doesn't know what she looks like.

But out of the range of her father's influence, Fiona hates who she is, who she's become to please him. So when he orders her to carry out a hit on some innocent people, Fiona refuses. She and her mother go into hiding in a small town in Arizona, where Fiona figures she'll just pass the time until they can find some place better to be safe.

Except that she finds she loves it. She loves the quirky new friends she makes, and she's attracted by local hot guy Brody. When her father's threat gets closer, she finds that she's willing to do almost anything to keep her new life.

I though this story was cute. I liked Fiona as a character and I enjoyed watching her relationships unfold. In some ways, it reminded me of Kiersten White's Paranormalcy--particularly in the heroine with unique gifts who attends high school for the first time. Fiona's not quite as snarky as Evie, but I think they'd like each other.

Readers who look for a lot of depth in their stories won't find it here--but readers looking for a fun, clean YA read with dystopian elements will enjoy it.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Ecksdot, J. Washburn

80. Ecksdot, by J. Washburn

Ecksdot follows  Nate, a young man with a vivid imagination, who tends to get in trouble for indulging his imagination too far. Then, unexpectedly, things that he thought were only his imagination actually start happening, and Nate uncovers a world of invisible creatures (Andbots) that he has a unique ability to see and hear. His friend Danny, who's much slower than Nate, tries hard to keep up with Nate and his newly expanding world. When Nate finds that his new friends are in danger, he decides its up to him to figure out a way to save them.

I thought the story had a lot of promise--the premise was interesting, and some parts of the writing were quite good. But sometimes I found the story lagging a little, as some chapters seemed more long-winded than others. The first fifty or so pages were confusing, as they're told in alternating POV, from Nate to Ecksdot (one of the Andbots) and it's not clear for some time what exactly Ecksdot is.

I liked Nate's friendship with Danny, which felt real for the age--sometimes close and loyal, sometimes harsh. I wasn't entirely sure how old Nate was supposed to be; the voice (most of the time) seemed about 11-12, but at one point Nate thought of himself as a teenager, and he seemed quite interested in a girl, so he might have been a little older. The voice, too, seemed to fluctuate. Sometimes it was great--vivid, believable--and other times it seemed unnecessarily old or long winded.

Overall, a decent story, though perhaps not really my kind of story.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings

79. Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings

This was easily the best epic fantasy I've read in a long time--which may not be saying much, as I haven't tackled epic fantasy in some time. Suffice it to say, despite the length, I found myself devouring the book. It took me longer to read than most, but that's hardly surprising, since the book is easily 1000 pages + (I read on my Kindle, so the book didn't feel so long--except, of course, that the % of the book read hardly seemed to budge at times).

The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, #1)Anyway. On to an actual review. What impressed me the most about the book was the incredibly detailed world building. And I do mean *world*. Many fantasy books do a good job envisioning one country, with a few more vaguely described neighboring countries, but Sanderson has fleshed out a world--complete with history, religion, social class schisms, and more. The world itself fascinated me almost as much as the story.

The story is told primarily through three POVs: Kaladin, the dark-eyed son of a surgeon who became a soldier instead of following his father, and is now, through incredible ill-luck, a slave; Shallan, the daughter of a formerly influential house who becomes the ward of a heretic scholar to try to save her family; and Dalinar, the powerful uncle of the King who is growing increasingly uncertain about the wisdom of a drawn-out Alethi war to revenge the death of his brother (and the father of the current king). I like that the characters are so different, and that each of them has a powerful character arc. Sometimes certain story lines dragged out--I wasn't a fan of some of the long war scenes, for instance, and there were a few times when Shallan (one of my favorites) seemed to disappear for long periods of time.

But mostly, I loved it. I loved that the book challenged me to think about philosophical issues as the characters wrestled with moral and ethical dilemmas. And I like that even at the end of the book Sanderson has left me with mysteries about the world (what exactly are the Voidbringers? What do the Parshendi really want?) that will (probably) entice me into reading further in the series.