Thursday, August 29, 2013

Blood of Tyrants by Naomi Novik (Temeraire book 8)

I am a huge fan of the Temeraire series and am sad to see it ending. Blood of Tyrants is the second to last book, and it is neither among the best nor the worst titles in the series. I enjoyed it a great deal and had trouble putting it down but also wanted to savor every chapter.

That said, it is not without flaws. The book opens with Temeraire’s captain, William Laurence, washed up on a beach with amnesia. Amnesia is a tired and rarely believable plot twist and I was surprised to see Novik resort to it. Temeraire’s fear and anxiety over the missing Laurence does not seem as heartfelt as in previous books. The scenes in which Laurence was alone were a bit draggy for me, and his continued shock and dismay as facts about his recent life were revealed were a bit tiresome.

The relationships between the dragons and their captains are my favorite thing about this series, and there wasn’t as much of that as I would have liked (there never is). My favorite pair are Maximus and Berkley (I named my house after Maximus), and while we got a bit of Maximus there wasn’t enough Berkley. I most enjoy the interplay between the members of Temeraire’s cohort, and at least they were all present and active for a significant portion of the book. My other favorite dragon is Perscitia, who sadly did not make an appearance.

I enjoyed learning about new dragons, and the condition of the Russian dragons was an unexpected twist. I quite enjoyed meeting the American dragon John Wampanoag. For some readers, the battles are probably the highlights of these books rather than the relationships, but to me the battles are the parts I hurry through. I am not a scholar of the Napoleonic era and sometimes feel lost in the details. I love the old-fashioned language that Novik uses and the manners her characters display. (“‘Ma’am, I am honored by your condescension,’ Laurence said, bowing” and “it is too much to be borne!” from Temeraire.)

In summary, while this is not one of the best titles in the series, it is still a must for Temeraire fans, and I still highly recommend the series as a whole. I eagerly await the final book.

(I read an electronic galley of Blood of Tyrants, but the book is available now.)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

big girl panties by Stephanie Evanovich

Just by reading the title you know this is not going to be one of those "deep" books. I will say it was a book I enjoyed reading.It was light, but it also touched on the issues and pain of  being fat. The way Ms. Evanovich wrote about her character's self-esteem was extremely accurate. No, it was not  all "I will never get out of this hole". Naturally, there is a romance too.
This is a fast read, and perfect for readers looking for a "happy" book, with just a touch of social commentary that just might make you pause......... and think.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

Kate Baron is an overworked lawyer at a top firm. Fifteen years earlier she found herself pregnant by a man she didn’t like, much less love, and decided to keep the baby despite pressure from her mother to do otherwise. Kate’s relationship with her daughter is sometime strained because Kate works long hours, but Amelia is a bright girl who never gets into trouble and is well liked by her teachers.
In the middle of an important meeting with an even more important client, Kate is interrupted by her secretary. The dean at Amelia’s private high school is on the phone. Amelia has been caught cheating and has been suspended, and Kate needs to pick her up immediately. Kate can’t believe it. Any kind of misbehavior seems so out of character for her daughter. Kate leaves her infuriated client to a coworker and takes the subway to the school. She’d told the dean she’d be there in 20 minutes; instead, she arrives an hour and 15 minutes later. She sees firefighters and paramedics, but no one seems to be in a hurry. She begins to panic, and then she is met by a detective. Amelia, he tells her, is dead. She fell from the roof of the school.
The rest of Reconstructing Amelia is told by Kate, in flashbacks and in the present, by postings on an anonymous blog about the students at the school, by facebook postings and texts between Kate and others, and by Amelia in flashback narratives. Amelia’s death is ruled a suicide, but Kate receives an anonymous text: “Amelia didn’t jump.”
I had trouble putting Reconstructing Amelia down. I wanted to know where the plot was going next. There are a lot of characters and a lot of distracting incidents, a lot of red herrings that lead nowhere and a lot of dropped clues that may or may not be important later. The mystery and plot are well constructed; I guessed some of the bombshells but was wrong about others.
There are many secrets in this book – secret school clubs, secret hazing rituals, secrets from the past, secrets about sexuality, secrets about who is anonymously sending texts and writing blog posts, and I wanted to know the answers to all of them.
Reconstructing Amelia would be a great book for a plane ride or an afternoon at the beach. It reminded me of last year’s blockbuster Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (although I liked the characters in Reconstructing Amelia a lot more). It’s not destined to become a classic, and it’s not a book I could read and enjoy more than once. But I found it an engrossing read, and I recommend it to those who like psychological fiction.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason

Submitted by Stephen, teen reviewer:

What do you get when you cross Sherlock Holmes, a vampire hunter, Egyptian artifacts, steam punk London and murder? The premise of this book sounds like the set up to a bad joke and if it seems complicated, it is. It seem like the author tried to combine all of the most popular themes in young adult fiction instead of just choosing one. The plot is well done although it does drag in some spots and the dynamic between Stoker and Homes is great. There were some elements that were added that just seemed unnecessary but may possibly play out more in the following books. The inner-monologue of Holmes is interesting although it seems that the author breaks the rule of “show, don't tell” by often mentioning that Holmes is intelligent. I generally disapprove of vampire fiction in all of its forms but the Stoker character is a decent female protagonist. The book ended with a lot of loose ends, witch is typical for the first book in a series. The plot covers all possible interests that any junior fiction reader will find something interesting in it.  

The Clockwork Scarab will be in stores September 17, 2013.

Monday, August 19, 2013

how to be a good wife by emma chapman

In case you are wondering why I wrote the title this way, it is because the author had used all lower case letters on the book cover. Not sure why, but that should have been the first clue that this book is a little creepy. Maybe "creepy" isn't the right word, but it certainly is disturbing. In a creepy kind of way. We are introduced to this woman named Marta, who is quite fragile, possibly paranoid, and honestly, not right in the head. She has a rather odd life and a vivid imagination and she is married to a man who is quite a bit older than she is. After getting to know both of them, however, you begin to wonder whether she is the one who has the serious problems, or if it is her husband. Marta is starting to "remember" things from her past, but since her husband has been keeping her medicated, it is hard to say if what Marta believes is actually real, or a figment of her wild imagination. Clever, eerie, well-written and a little scary, this novel was hard to put down.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin

The Lathe of Heaven started slow for me, but once I got into it I really got into it. The whole premise is pretty intriguing, that someone capable of “effective dreaming” could unintentionally remake the world each time he falls asleep. When George Orr wakes, he remembers the world as it used to be, but no one else does until he begins seeing a doctor who hypnotizes him and causes him to dream in his office. Since he is with him when it happens, the doctor also can remember the change. He begins directing George’s dreams in hopes of molding the world in the way the doctor thinks is best.

The changes can be minor – a wall painting of a mountain changing to a painting of a horse – or horrendous, with global consequences.
I was very engaged once I got about 40 pages in. I had no idea where the plot was headed. I felt great sympathy for the main character and rooted for his relationship with a woman who appears and disappears from his changing world. I loved the Aldebaranian aliens, who looked like giant turtles, who spoke out of their left elbows, and whose attempts at communicating in English were filled with imponderables.  (“Before following directions leading in wrong directions, auxiliary forces may be summoned, in immediate-following fashion: Er’ perrehnne!” Good advice.)
I was inspired to choose The Lathe of Heaven as a title for my science fiction/fantasy book discussion group after reading Jo Walton’s Among Others. While I did not enjoy The Lathe of Heaven as much as Among Others, I’m glad I read it. It’s a short book – less than 200 pages. I recommend it for anyone seeking to expand their familiarity with classic works of science fiction.

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)

I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, and I thought The Casual Vacancy was brilliant, so of course I got right in line for a copy of The Cuckoo’s Calling when the news broke that it was written by J.K. Rowling (writing as Robert Galbraith).

I would never have thought this was written by Rowling if I hadn’t already known. There was more adult language than I’m used to, but I guess that’s to be expected in a novel about a hard-boiled detective. There is not a lot of action, so I do understand reviewers who’ve said they thought it might have been written by a woman even before the news broke. This is a mystery for a thinking reader, not someone who likes nonstop action. I doubt many James Bond fans will be drawn to The Cuckoo’s Calling.
As always, Rowling’s strength is her character development. After 455 pages I really felt I’d gotten to know Private Investigator Cormoran Strike and his “temporary” secretary Robin Ellacott. I had strong images of what they looked like in my mind and insight into their personalities. Their relationship did not unfold in a predictable way. There are many wholly unlikeable characters in this book, but, like Shakespeare, Rowling manages to give even minor characters depth and interesting qualities.
The Cuckoo’s Calling has a pretty straightforward plot. I did not figure out the mystery – although I suspected the murderer at times, I wasn’t sure – but then I rarely figure out “who done it.” I don’t really try, so if I guess the murderer early on in a book I know the mystery was lame. Rowling does throw in some red herrings to lead her readers astray. She spends a lot of time describing things, places, and events, which will drive some readers crazy but which I enjoyed.
I don’t come across words I don’t know the meaning of all that often in pleasure reading, but Rowling caught me several times. (For example: “Exophthalmic” – having or characterized by protruding eyes.)
I thoroughly enjoyed The Cuckoo’s Calling and look forward to the next book in the series. If you like great character development and a meandering investigation, you may enjoy this book. If you like minimal character development and lots of action, it is probably not for you.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Out of Range by Hank Steinberg

This book touches on the issues of two strong people in a marriage based on love but not communicating. These two people met in a turbulent country. They experienced trauma but lived through it and returned to a steady life in the U.S....or did they?
I found this book to be an interesting read, but not on the "edge of my seat". The twists and turns became a bit expected as you continued to read.I did want to finish to see how it ended and I liked the ending. It is a good read but not one that leaves you thinking about the characters when not reading.   

Friday, August 9, 2013

Heft by Liz Moore

Heft was not quite what I expected. It was even better. A “colossally fat” former professor has not been outside his home for years. He has everything he needs delivered. His primary pleasure is eating. Twenty years early he met a student he felt a great kinship with. Their loneliness drew them together: “I sensed her loneliness the moment she walked into my classroom, & I thought it likely that she could sense mine, although I tried to shield her from it.” (p. 28) Circumstances cause her to leave school and him as well, but they maintained a correspondence for 18 years. 

One day out of the blue she calls him and tells him she is going to send him a letter. What she sends him is a photo of the son she never told him she had. Divorced, she is worried about her son and thinks a relationship with Arthur will help him. She wants them to meet. Thus begins a chain of events that are played out in the novel. Arthur calls a maid service so he is not ashamed to have Charlene and her son Kel over. The maid, Yolanda, then becomes woven in to the fabric of Arthur’s life. (The descriptions of the book I’ve seen do not even mention her, which is a real omission.) 

The book is told alternately by Arthur and Kel. Each has a distinct voice. Neither is a trustworthy narrator, and yet you sense their essential honesty and wait for them to reveal the truth. They both felt like real people to me.  

Heft has a lot to say about loneliness and making connections. It started slow, but once the story got moving I wanted to know what happened next. I listened to most of it on audiobook on a long trip, and I couldn’t wait to get back in the car to hear more. The book surprised me, both with plot twists and with the depth of the characters. The relationships are complicated and unexpected. Characters tell each other lies and it's so believable, the way the lies are told and the reasons for them.  

Kel is the kind of person who makes friends easily and becomes the leader of any group, yet even he can feel awkward and out of place. His mother gets a job at a prestigious high school so Kel can attend, and Moore perfectly captures his shame and horror his first day when he is wearing the “wrong” clothes. She captures the shame and horror Arthur feels over his weight. 

The author has a lovely way with words. There were many passages that were just a pleasure to read. For example, when Arthur receives the photo of Kel, he thinks (p. 52): "I can tell he's a dreamer. He fears things. The death of his mother, perhaps, or his own death. Disobedience. Authority. He is trustworthy but doesn't trust others. In his heart there is bravery & cowardice. He is a baby & a man. His face is a boy's face. His face is a crystal ball. I am sure that other pictures of him show him smiling. I am sure that several girls have pictures of him smiling & that sort of thing. I am sure that several girls have pictures of him without his knowing it." 

I thoroughly enjoyed the way Yolanda and Arthur conversed. I felt like I was eavesdropping on two people working their way into friendship. Once, when Yolanda is upstairs cleaning, her phone rings. Arthur guiltily picks it up and sees that the call is from “Junior Baby Love.” Junior is Yolanda’s no-good boyfriend and the father of her unborn child. After that, Arthur refers to him as Junior Baby Love (or, occasionally, JBL) which cracked me up and never got old for me. (The narrator on the audiobook, Keith Szarabajka, was especially good at disdainfully repeating “Junior Baby Love.”) 

Heft is about loneliness and the burdens we all carry. Sad things happen, but overall it is a hopeful book. Arthur is unsure about his relationships:
"In a fit of sentimentality & self-pity, I asked [Yolanda] today if she would let me meet the baby after it was born and she asked if I was firing her. I took this as a very good sign." (p. 350) Arthur is honest about himself, his failings, his weight, and his relationships, but he is also hopeful. 

Some people might be dissatisfied with the ending of Heft, but I loved it. It allowed me to imagine what will happen next. Although Heft is not classified as a young adult novel, I think many teens would enjoy it. I recommend Heft to readers who enjoy immersing themselves in the lives of characters who feel real, who have ever felt lonely, or who have struggled with personal burdens. In other words – all readers.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Fallout by Todd Strasser

Submitted by Stephen, teen reviewer:

Fallout  is written by accomplished author Todd Strasser, whose books are taught  in classrooms all around the world. This particular book is deeply personal to Strasser. It depicts what would have happened if they would have dropped a nuclear bomb on the United States..

Scott's dad is the only one in the neighborhood who has the foresight to build a fallout shelter in case of a nuclear attack. The neighbors mock him as he builds the bunker and laugh at the very idea of a catastrophe. But when it finally does happen and the sirens go off, it looks like Scott's family will be the only one surviving. The same neighbors who laughed at him weeks ago are now fighting for their lives trying to get into the bomb shelter. Some of their neighbors manage to get in, but that creates more problems than it solves. They now realize there was only enough food, water and supplies for Scott's family, and they will be in for the fight of their  lives.

Each chapter goes back and forth from weeks before the bomb and depicts Scott's more or less average childhood, and all the antics and drama that comes with that, and then after the bomb goes off when they are all huddled into a dark shelter trying to stay alive. The details are vivid enough to show that the author has lived during this time period and makes this a very personal story as I am sure he has thought about the "What ifs" of that time period.

The chapters in the shelter are thrilling and show the human spirit for survival, and while not leaving the shelter, the reader is forced to speculate what is really going on on the other side of that trap door. The chapters about Scott's childhood are less than interesting for me. The chapters seem to serve as a contrast between the way people function in normal society to the way they act when they are forced to survive in certain danger.

All in all this was a good quick read and the personal touch that the author has on this subject makes for some vivid writing. A good book for all junior fiction readers and anyone who enjoys simplistic historical fiction.

Fallout comes out in September, 2013.

Zombies vs. Unicorns

I was intrigued by the concept - a series of alternating stories about zombies and unicorns, as if it's a competition - but the concept was better than the reality. Like most story anthologies, the quality varied greatly. The book includes five star stories and two star stories. I was disappointed in the story by Naomi Novik, whose Temeraire series I love. I thought the best story was Princess Prettypants by Meg Cabot. Margo Lanagan's story A Thousand Flowers was pretty interesting also, and Kathleen Duey's The Third Virgin got me thinking. I guess I am in the unicorn camp, as overall I enjoyed those stories more than the zombie stories.

If you are a fan of strange story anthologies and modern fantastical tales about zombies and unicorns, this book is for you.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Burial Rites is about the last Execution in Iceland. This is the story of Agnes Magnusdottior who was charged and executed for the brutal murder of her master and a guest in 1828 and sent to an isolated farm to await her execution.

This book is a riveting historical/fiction book.  It tells the story of Agnes in a first person narrative.  Hannah Kent used transcripts from the trial, first account memories by the family that kept her on the farm, and the memories of her priest. The fiction comes from some names being changed or added narrative, but for the most part this is a historical book about a women accused and charged with murder and how she coped with the fact that she was going to die for a crime she did not commit.

In this book you will find the struggle of a woman who had no control over her life and was treated as a murderess by everybody because she was condemned for the crime.  They did not have prisons in Iceland at the time so you were sent to the homes of the district officer to be held until your sentence was fulfilled.  This story tells how Agnes was treated by her jailers.  It shows a woman who has courage under pressure and just tries to live the rest of her time with dignity. The family who has to hold her learns the true meaning of charity and judgement as they listen to her story as she talks to her priest and finds out that she has been wrongly condemned.  The Hate they have for her in the beginning turns into respect for this woman.

Wonderfully descriptive about the conditions and landscape.  This book will have you wondering what will happen next and hoping for second chances even though you know how it is going to end.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Speak of the Devil by Allison Leotta

This book revolves around a few months of Ann Curtis's intense life as a big city prosecutor.The book has it all! An evil gang boss, Diablo, romance issues, finding her place as a future step-parent,and staying true to her own personal moral compass.
These are just tidbits to get you started opening the first pages. Once I got into page 3 it really was a hard book to put down. When I wasn't reading I was thinking about what might happen next. One of the best things about this book, it was not predictable!
I cannot wait for the next book this author writes! A thriller that makes you think!!!
If you enjoy James Patterson, you will like this read, don't start reading this unless you have a few hours to get lost in Ann's life!!!

Extremities by David Lubar

Submitted by Stephen, teen reviewer:

Extremities is an anthology of short "dark" stories that tries to act like a junior fiction writer's attempt to be dark. The simplistic writing does not pair well with the inherent dark nature of the subjects the author is trying to write about. The thirteen short stories deal with subjects such as murder, revenge, voodoo and psychics. The subject matter of the stories are no doubt macabre, but the simple writing style and the juvenile themes make it seem like a young adult school story strapped with a murder at the end.

He mentions in the introduction that it is not meant to be a book for young readers, but if he did not preface the book with that note it is very likely that no one would have noticed. The settings, the characters and the themes are all very juvenile, just brushed with a bit of "horror."

The plots are great and the plot twist are even better. The stories are really short, between 5 to 7 pages. This does not give him enough time to develop any of the characters. This caused me to feel distant and apathetic to the problems the characters had. I had a difficult time connecting with the people in the stories. 

This book is great for young adults that are looking to experiment in the horror genre. The book is a quick and easy read that has dark subject material without being scary, great for people who have not yet tried dark material.