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.