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.