Friday, January 30, 2015

A Stranger Thing by Martin Leicht and Isla Neal

Series: The Ever-Expanding Universe #2
Genres: Science Fiction, Humor, Young Adult
Release Date: November 12th, 2013
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Source: Library

Add on Goodreads
In this witty, adventurous sequel to Mothership, which Publishers Weekly called “a whole lot of fun” Elvie Nara is back on earth—but her life (including her new baby) is still pretty out there!

Pregnancy was pretty rough for sixteen-year-old Elvie Nara, what with the morning sickness, constant food cravings, and the alien race war she found herself in the middle of. But if she thought giving birth to an extraterrestrial’s baby would be the hard part, she was sorely mistaken.

After Elvie somehow has a baby girl, the always-male Almiri completely wig out. Suddenly Elvie’s supposed allies have shipped her—along with her father, her best friend, Ducky, and her maybe-boyfriend, boneheaded Almiri commando Cole Archer—off to a remote “retention facility” (aka alien jail) in Antarctica. Talk about cold. But things really get complicated when a new group of hybrid aliens arrive with information that sends Elvie’s world spinning. Before long, Elvie is trekking across the bottom of the Earth with a band of friends and frenemies to uncover the secrets of her own origin. Will Elvie ever be able to convince the Almiri that a conspiracy to conquer the planet is a greater threat than a sixteen-year-old girl and a newborn who won’t stop crying?
This book was not a large improvement over it’s predecessor and I’d go so far to say that it was actually slightly worse but there is something about this series that makes you want to keep reading in spite of its shallowness. Sometimes we just really need is a nice fluffy read that doesn’t make us ask all the important questions and still manages to entertain us. 

Most of A Stranger Thing takes place over a short period of time and I think that’s one of the things that works for this book. Its fast pace makes it so that the reader just wants to continue reading without any interruptions. The pace makes it easy for the book to suck you in.

Elvie remains the fun witty character she was in the previous book but with the added advantage of being more mature because of her new mommy status. Elvie is a fantastic character to read about. Its just so much fun to watch her deal with problems, both external and internal.

One of her internal conflicts in this book is her relationship with Cole and I find that I like that she is questioning if she wants something long term with him. She loves him but considering how he can be completely irresponsible and immature at times, it’s nice that she isn’t going all ‘I love him and we’ll work though everything’. She has a kid to think about now and is Cole really ready for the kind of responsibility that comes with being a parent?

On that note, I am quite interested in the potential growth Cole might undergo. I’d like to see his character develop from the dumb jock he seems to be. He is a nice change from the usual ‘misunderstood jock’ stereotype but at the same time, I really want to see another side of him, something that’ll make me really connect with his character instead of just laughing at his antics. Elvie deserves better and loving her doesn’t quite make up for the fact that he can be so silly at times. Especially considering the seriousness of the situations the two tend to find themselves in.

That said, I don’t want a love triangle and I don’t think the author will introduce one in the final book (that would just kind of be pointless). What I want is to see crucial character development.

Something else I had a problem with was how certain characters were introduced in this book and after the initial ‘get to know you’, they weren't brought up until the ‘twist’ moments. One of the characters is there with Elvie for a good part of the book but they are almost completely forgotten about until necessary to the plot. What were they doing all that time?!?!?!?! 

There are also some twists in this book and while none of them are unpredictable, I have to say, they weren’t all that bad either. They weren’t in your face obvious and even if I saw them coming,  I think the author did a good job executing them.

If you were to look closer at the plot, you would find that it’s actually not perfect (SURPRISE) but at the same time, it works for this story. I liked what was happening. I liked the way the author introduced us to new concepts and I liked how the author developed the story.

This book is not even close to perfect but in spite of all of its fault it’s such a fun and likeable read and if you want something really fluffy, I’d encourage you to pick the series up (so long as you’re prepared to deal with certain annoying things).

Half the World by Joe Abercrombie

Half the World is the second book in The Shattered Sea fantasy series. It picks up where Half a King finished up, but Yarvi has become a secondary character in his own tale. The new main characters are Thorn and Brand. Abercrombie is a little heavy handed with Thorn’s name, as she is a thorn in everyone’s side.

Brand and Thorn are teenagers trying to become warriors for Gettland. Due to a series of connected circumstances, they fail at passing their tests and become part of a crew on a ship with Yarvi. Yarvi is trying to find allies for Gettland against the High King.

I enjoyed Half the World but not quite as much as Half a King. It’s one long set up for the climax. A misunderstanding keeps two lovers apart for longer than was believable. I expected to see more of King Uthil, and he is a minor and ineffective character. I hope he returns in glory in the third book.

Abercrombie is a gritty, realistic writer, which I like most of the time although he seems a little obsessed with snot. (There are multiple references to people picking their noses or expelling snot.) Thorn’s inconvenient menstruation is a plot point early in the book – refreshing to find in a fantasy novel - but it never comes up again.

Thorn is not as sympathetic a character as Yarvi and definitely not as likeable. Brand is much more so but the focus is on Thorn. Yarvi is clever, a man of deep cunning, and a master manipulator in a complicated relationship with his fascinating mother the Queen. I would have liked to have seen inside their heads more.

I like Abercrombie’s world and his way with words. I like that he has strong female characters and thoughtful male characters. Brand and his sister have lived in poverty and struggled to survive for many years. When he returns from his long voyage with his pay, he finds that his sister has become a swordsmith and now lives in a fine house.

“Gods,” whispered Brand. “I was going to change your life. You did it by yourself.” (p. 231 of the advance reader copy)

This entry in the series feels less original than the first, but it’s packaged in an entertaining way. There are many echoes of Tolkien (including a warrior who says “it has been foreseen that no man can kill me”), but that’s not a bad thing.

If you enjoy gritty high fantasy with well developed characters that is thoughtful about the “glory” of war, I recommend Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea series.

I read an advance reader copy from It is scheduled to be published February 17. The Galesburg Public Library owns the first book in the series, Half a King, in book and audio formats. 

The Eye of Minds by James Dashner

From the publisher: 
Michael is a gamer. And like most gamers, he almost spends more time on the VirtNet than in the actual world. The VirtNet offers total mind and body immersion, and the more hacking skills you have, the more fun. Why bother following the rules when most of them are dumb, anyway?

But some rules were made for a reason. Some technology is too dangerous to fool with. And one gamer has been doing exactly that, with murderous results.

The government knows that to catch a hacker, you need a hacker. And they’ve been watching Michael. If he accepts their challenge, Michael will need to go off the VirtNet grid to the back alleys and corners of the system human eyes have never seen—and there’s the possibility that the line between game and reality will be blurred forever.

The Eye of Minds was chosen as the first book for Galesburg Public Library's Chapter Chompers Teen Book Club.  Overall, the six teens who attended our discussion of the book really enjoyed the story of Michael's quest through the VirtNet, although they found it difficult to follow at times. Group members agreed that they would LOVE the chance to enter a VirtNet of their own (preferably without having to enter via creepy coffin), particularly if the VirtNet could be made up of a combination of worlds from their favorite books.  Think Harry Potter + The Lost Hero + a little bit of Dork Diaries thrown in...

Another element of The Eye of Minds that book club members really enjoyed was the ambiguity between which characters were "good" and which were "bad."  Nothing was what it seemed on the surface, which kept our teen readers on their toes... and sometimes had them yelling at the book.  For instance, when Michael and his friends encountered Master Slake in the woods and, lured by his promise of food, followed him even though he seemed kind of shady, group member Kiaya's response was: "Yeah, I'm hungry... but after we eat, RUN!!"

Group members came up with a 5-point rating system for books read in Chapter Chompers:
1 (lowest ranking) = 1 pizza
2 = 2 pizzas
3 = 3 pizzas
4 = breadsticks (teens really like breadsticks, apparently)
5 = unitado (half unicorn/half potato. don't ask.)

The Eye of Minds achieved a rating of Breadsticks.  It is available in libraries and bookstores now.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Mothership by Martin Leicht and Isla Neal

Genres: Science Fiction, Humor, Young Adult
Release Date: July 10th, 2012
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Source: Library

Add on Goodreads
Teen pregnancy is never easy—especially not when extraterrestrials are involved. The first in a new trilogy.

Elvie Nara was doing just fine in the year 2074. She had a great best friend, a dad she adored, and bright future working on the Ares Project on Mars. But then she had to get involved with sweet, gorgeous, dumb-as-a-brick Cole--and now she’s pregnant.

Getting shipped off to the Hanover School for Expecting Teen Mothers was not how Elvie imagined spending her junior year, but she can go with the flow. That is, until a team of hot commandos hijacks the ship--and one of them turns out to be Cole. She hasn’t seen him since she told him she’s pregnant, and now he’s bursting into her new home to tell her that her teachers are aliens and want to use her unborn baby to repopulate their species? Nice try, buddy. You could have just called.

So fine, finding a way off this ship is priority number one, but first Elvie has to figure out how Cole ended up as a commando, work together with her arch-nemesis, and figure out if she even wants to be a mother--assuming they get back to Earth in one piece.

This book is exactly what the cover suggests it is. It’s fluff. The question arises as to whether it’s good or bad fluff and in my opinion, this book is fluff of the good variety. It didn’t always feel that way though. The first 100 pages or so were incredibly painful. I kept questioning the sanity of our main character and my own sanity too for continuing to read a book I wasn't enjoying. The reason I read on, even though I wasn't having a swell time, was because the book was funny. I hoped that the book would get better as I went along and I was right, it did. It got insanely better and I started actually enjoying the book instead of just laughing at the funny parts.

Elvie is our main character and happens to be knocked up. When I first found out about this series, I was intrigued by how the book would deal with teen pregnancy in a sci-fic setting. Worry not though, this book is not serious. It’s pretty goshdarn funny and even if it makes you question whether the author is dealing with an important issue like this with the sensitivity it deserves. Sometimes, you don’t want a deep and moving book! Sometimes you really just want some fluff.

Going back to Elvie though. Elvie is snarky and obviously has mommy issues. This leads to her being detached from her pregnancy and the idea that she is actually having a kid.She calls her fetus goober from pete’s sake. But Elvie is smart, and while she sometimes annoyed me with her slut shamming and her general outlook on some of her other peers, she still managed to be likeable because in spite of everything that had happened to her, she didn’t spend a lot of time moping around. She took action!

Cole on the other hand was an entirely questionable love interest. I despised him for the first 100 pages and questioned Elvie’s sanity for being so head over heels for a doofus for whom she was the ‘other’ girl and who bailed the moment he found out about the baby. But we get explanations for his jerk behavior and while they aren’t a 100% satisfying, they brought a much needed explanation as to how someone so smart as Elvie could love a dumbdumb like Cole.

I guess the one thing Cole has going for him is that even though he may not be the brightest bulb, he is loyal and is definitely smarter than he is given credit for. Especially given the way his superiors discredited him. There were moments in their relationship that were adorable and I think what makes their relationship work is that Elvie isn’t with him for his brains, she knows he isn’t super smart, she’s with him because he is sweet and caring (if dense at times).

This book is very fast paced and if I remember correctly, a lot of it takes place over the course of 24 hours. It’s got a lot of action and could be surprisingly brutal at times (meaning not everyone is alive at the end … including a character I had grown to love). I do like how the author paces the book though. It fits what the author is going and he does it just right so that the book never feels rushed. It feels exciting.

This is a fun fluffy book and while it takes a bit to get used to, it is worth it since it’s such a fast-paced cutesy read with a great futuristic setting and a bit of space opera (if it can be classified as such). 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

I’d never read any Margaret Atwood before choosing Oryx and Crake for book club. I listened to the audio version, narrated by Campbell Scott. Wow, Atwood is a great writer. But this is one disturbing book.

The book is narrated by Snowman, who seems to be the last remaining original human on earth. There is a new race of genetically engineered people, but they have very little in common with Snowman. Society has collapsed. Cities are in ruins. Over the course of the book, Snowman talks about his present life - sleeping in trees to avoid being eaten by genetically engineered monsters, scrounging for food, water, and supplies, answering questions from the perfect children of the other race - while also telling us about his childhood, about his relationships with his best friend Crake and his one great love Oryx, and what happened to bring the planet to its present state. (Bonus points from me for multiple references to Alex the African Grey Parrot.)

The narrative grabbed me from the third paragraph on page 1: “Out of habit he looks at his watch – stainless-steel case, burnished aluminum band, still shiny although it no longer works. He wears it now as his only talisman. A blank face is what it shows him: zero hour. It causes a jolt of terror to run through him, this absence of official time. Nobody nowhere knows what time it is.”

Published in 2003, Oryx and Crake came out before the current round of dystopian novels. And unlike many of them, we don’t have a hopeful subplot to distract us from the grim reality of what our future as a species could hold if we go down a certain path of genetic engineering. There are relationships, including romantic and sexual relationships, but the unrelenting narrative about how the world was destroyed is not much lightened by those relationships.

Gated compounds and economic divides. Genetic engineering. Too powerful corporations. Every depravity imaginable available on the internet. Climate change. Of all the dystopian novels I've read over the years (at least 20 in the last four years according to my Goodreads list), this is the scariest because it feels the most possible.

The book is filled with statements and passages that made me stop and think, like this one: “Watch out for the leaders, Crake used to say. First the leaders and the led, then the tyrants and the slaves, then the massacres. That’s how it’s always gone.” (p. 155)

At this point I am not sure whether or not I will read the sequels - not because the first isn't good, it is – but because the series depicts such a depressing future. At the very least I'll need a little break first and something lighthearted to read before tackling The Year of the Flood.

If you enjoy beautifully written realistic dystopian fiction that carries true warnings for our species, Oryx and Crake is for you. The Galesburg Public Library has the three books in the series in both print and ebook versions.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

Positives: strong female lead and a gorgeous cover
Negatives: love triangle and a PROPHECY

Princess Arabella, who prefers to be called by Lia (the shortening of Jezelia, one of her middle names, and this is Important to the plot), is about to be married to a prince she has never met. The book opens with the complicated creation of a wedding kavah, a kind of temporary tattoo, on her back. It is an intricate depiction of her kingdom, Morrighan, joined with Dalbreck, the kingdom of her intended. It will be splendidly displayed by the low-cut back of her wedding dress at the ceremony.

But Lia and her attendant Pauline have made other plans. They escape by horseback to Pauline’s childhood home of Terravin, where they take employment as serving wenches in the inn. Lia shows spunk, handling the crude comments of the soldiers who enjoy the inn’s brew. Then Rafe and Kaden, two handsome young strangers, arrive. One of the older servers guesses they are a fisherman and a trader. But unknown to Lia and her friends, they are the prince she left at the altar and an assassin sent to kill her.

I enjoyed The Kiss of Deception. It is well written and the plot is easy to follow. The world building is solid and the alien words not too cumbersome. The main character is strong and determined. The two handsome strangers have some depth.  But there are some pretty unbelievable plot twists, and the characters do some stupid things. I found the fight and make up scene between Lia and the young man she is most attracted to a bit cringe worthy.

The author keeps secret which young man is the prince and which is the assassin, and that annoyed me. I am certain I would have enjoyed the book more if I’d known earlier. I finally went online to find out (ironically, by reading the description of the second book in the series) long before the author revealed the secret.

The Kiss of Deception cannot stand alone. It is definitely a first book, and I liked it enough that I will read the second book. If you enjoy YA fantasy with strong female characters and don’t mind love triangles, I recommend The Kiss of Deception.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

Posted for review Norm - 

This book is set in an ORSK, an IKEA-like furniture store, and its main characters are employees. That part is a hoot. At the beginning of each chapter there is a black and white drawing of a piece of furniture for sale in the store, with an appropriate Scandinavian-sounding name (well, in the later chapters, while some of the items listed are in the store, they probably are not on sale, and certainly not to ordinary customers). There are also various inspirational company blurbs and the odd internal memo.

“Let you become We—at Orsk.” That would make any potential employee feel warm and fuzzy, and it’s not just the employees. Customers are funneled through the showroom by following the Bright and Shining Path. Advertising includes the advice to “pause by your Arsle to turn breakfast into a celebration of a brand new day.” As the book develops, a careful observer can begin to find some sinister hints—potential employees are told that “It’s not just a job. It’s the rest of your life”—and all the product numbers used at the beginning of each chapter contain the sequence “666” somewhere.

When the horror element stepped center stage, I thought at first it was going be weak, but it turned out to be anything but; it also has a definite and creepy relationship to the “this store [work] is your life” element ORSK tries to create in its employees. This was both a fun and a scary read.

 - Norm

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Unexpected by Sharon Creech

Genres: Contemporary, Magic Realism, Middle Grade
Release Date: September 4th, 2012
Publisher: HarperCollins
Source: Library

Add on Goodreads
Humorous and heartfelt, this is a story of pairs—of young Naomi and Lizzie, both orphans in present-day Blackbird Tree, USA, and of Sybil and Nula, grown-up sisters from faraway Rook's Orchard, Ireland, who have become estranged.

Young Naomi Deane is brimming with curiosity and her best friend, Lizzie Scatterding, could talk the ears off a cornfield. Naomi has a knack for being around when trouble happens. She knows all the peculiar people in town—like Crazy Cora and Witch Wiggins. But then, one day, a boy drops out of a tree. Just like that. A strangely charming Finn boy. And then the Dingle Dangle man appears, asking all kinds of questions. Curious surprises are revealed—three locked trunks, a pair of rooks, a crooked bridge, and that boy—and soon Naomi and Lizzie find their lives changed forever.

As two worlds are woven together, Creech reveals that hearts can be mended and that there is indeed a gossamer thread that connects us all.

As gorgeous as this book was, I felt let down. Sharon Creech is one of my favorite childhood authors and I’ve been wanting to read this book forever, since it came out to be precise. I remember the excitement I felt when I found out Sharon Creech had a new book out. I added it to my Goodreads, to-read list but like the case with a lot of other books that I placed on the list, it found it’s way to a place on the list that I don’t often check.

When I finally got my hands on the book, I was excited to dive in and I was disappointed when it started to seem that this middle grade book had a situation where two young girls were being torn apart because of there shared interest in one guy. I mean realistically, it’s quite possible. We all had our crushes when we were young, but I just don’t expect stuff like that in middle grade books so I was shocked.

My shock aside, after pondering about the situation a bit, it made me think. Shouldn’t middle grade books also explore certain concepts like this? After all there are young tweens that might read these books looking for some kind of reassurance they aren’t on their own or that the way they feel isn’t abnormal or that boys don’t actually have cooties (we all went through that phase :P)!

Lizzie and Naomi are both wonderful characters and I adored being inside of Naomi’s head. It’s clear that in spite of the way she may present herself, she does want to be loved and doesn’t just want to be a ‘burden’ to Nula and Joe. She wants to know that she matters to them too and it's obvious she was too scared to ask the right question. Especially after seeing the kind of affect Lizzie’s obviously high expectations had on her. Naomi was just such a lovable character and you wanted to hold her and reassure her that everything would be okay. 

Lizzie was slightly overwhelming at first but I came to adore her too. She talked a lot and there were times where you, like Naomi, just wanted her to zip it but her innocence made it obvious that she never thought anything but the best of everyone and would never want to hurt anyone. Most of all, Naomi.

I loved the magic realism in this book. It definitely made the book more exciting but at the same time, I wanted so much more. This book is full of so much potential and when I compare it to some of Creech’s other works, I cannot help but find the book lacking.

To add to that, the ending to this book just seemed so unlike Creech. The other books I’ve read by her always ended in a sweet but realistic manner but the ending to this book bordered on unrealistic. There were elements to it that made me smile but other parts of it made me cringe with their perfectness.

Don’t be confused by what I said though, this book still has it’s brutal parts and while I wish they had been given more attention, they do manage to break your heart.

All in all, while I feel a little let down by this book, it’s still a fantastic read and one I won’t hesitate to recommend (unless it’s your first time reading Creech in which case, I’d say start with Walk Two Moons). 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Promise Land by Jessica Lamb-Shapiro

It’s January, the month for making resolutions to improve yourself. What do you think when you hear the term “self-help”? Do you want it? Do you fear it? Do you look down on those who need it? “All of us would probably like to be slimmer, smarter, richer, more popular, more successful,” notes Jessica Lamb-Shapiro in her book Promise Land (p. 207), in which she examines the self-help industry. Her father, Lawrence E. Shapiro, has written self-help books and raised her in an environment of positive thinking.

While working on the book, the author attended conferences, camps, and classes. She walked on coals and forced herself to fly despite her own fear.

Promise Land is humorous and a bit snarky, especially if you are at all skeptical of the self-help industry. If you are a particular fan of some of the books and franchises she mentions, like Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret and the Chicken Soup series, you may not be quite as amused.  For example, she writes, “[t]he concepts in The Secret have been published in books that anyone can buy – and have bought, in the millions – for at least a hundred years. Furthermore, something you don’t know is not necessarily a secret; it’s just something you don’t know. For instance, I don’t know anything about rocket science, but that doesn’t make rocket science a secret.” (p. 123)

The author was considerably less snarky when discussing her own fear of flying and the self-help group she attended. I laughed along with her at some of the situations she covered, but others struck home with me. During an especially difficult time of his life, her father bought a diorama of a hospital room and spent time setting it up and playing with it at home. “I felt better,” he said. “It was a moment of epiphany. That was when I realized that toys could help people.” (p. 69) As a doll collector, I also believe that toys can help people.

The book did bring to my attention information I didn’t know or that hadn’t occurred to me. For example, the author quotes self-help author Martin Seligman, who points out that it is unusual “for people to have electric-outlet phobias or hammer phobias or chain saw phobias, even though those things pose actual dangers.” (p. 146) We are not most afraid of the things that are the most dangerous.

At times the author struck me as a bit lazy. She describes how The Sorcerer’s Apprentice section of the movie Fantasia made her anxious (p. 63). She remembers Mickey cutting a magic chair in half and the chair then multiplying.  In a footnote, she comments that her editor “thinks” it was a broom, not a chair, but neither the author nor the editor bothered to google it and find out? Maybe that’s laziness and maybe it’s self-indulgence, but I didn’t like it.

There is a thread of anxious melancholy running throughout the book. The author’s mother committed suicide when she was a child, at about the same age the author was when writing the book, and although the author has a close relationship with her father, they do not talk about her mother.  Her search for self-help brings her some closure.

Promise Land is a short book – just over 200 pages – and an easy read. If self-reflection and the subject of self-help interests you, I recommend it. It can be found at the Galesburg Public Library at 616.89 LAM.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Her by Harriet Lane

A very well-written, psychological thriller in which a game of cat and mouse is run by a sociopath and a woman who is clueless. From the very first sentence in we find Nina, who is an Artist/Painter, stalking unsuspecting Emma, who is a pregnant mother with a toddler by her side. We're not really sure how they know each other, but we start getting an idea that Nina is up to something, and not something good. The chapters alternate back and forth from one perspective to the other, showing us both sides of the events that happen, which makes for very entertaining reading. This book was hard to put down! If you like mind-game thrillers, then this book is for you! Read On!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Did you love The Fault in Our Stars and If I Stay? Then you will probably want to read Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places, which tackles another trendy topic – teen suicide. My junior year in high school, the president of student council killed himself at Valentine’s Day, so as a reader I am both attracted to and repelled by teen suicide books.

The book started slowly for me, as it seemed overly similar to other realistic fiction YA books like those I mentioned.  Freaky, weird, unpopular boy and pretty, popular girl with an issue. I had a bit of a hard time buying the initial “meet cute” (or not so cute) set up. He goes up on the school’s bell tower to think about dying, something he thinks about a lot. She doesn’t know why she goes up, she just finds herself there, numb from the death of her older sister in a car crash months before. He talks her down, but everyone in their high school of 2000 students thinks it’s the other way around. That she courageously and heroically saw him up there and persuaded him not to kill himself.

So Theodore Finch and Violet Markey slowly become friends, then boyfriend and girlfriend. Their U.S. Geography teacher asks them to work in pairs on a project, reporting on two or three “wonders of Indiana.” Finch manipulates Violet into agreeing to be his partner on the project, and much of their relationship is spent visiting strange and quirky curiosities in Indiana.

The giddiness of attraction between teenagers is well done, as is the aftermath of a tragedy that takes place late in the book. Some of the metaphors are labored – like the story of a cardinal who kept flying into the glass doors of Finch’s home until it killed him – but there is some nice imagery. The depiction of the parents and the other students is uneven. For example, Finch’s father is a caricature, but Violet’s mother has some depth.

The book is narrated in turn by Finch and Violet.  I found Finch much better developed than Violet, and liked his voice much better. Still, they are both flawed but appealing. The dialog between Finch and Violet is very smart and literate, but not over the top for the most part. Their internal narratives ring true most of the time.

“Like most people in the Midwest, Embryo doesn’t believe in humor, especially when it pertains to sensitive subjects,” thinks Finch (p. 19 of the advance reader copy), which isn’t true but is something a teenager might believe.

There is much in this book that teenagers will relate to. “One year later, I grew out of my clothes because, it turns out, growing fourteen inches in a summer is easy. It’s growing out of a label that’s hard, ” thinks Finch after being stuck with the label Theodore Freak. (p. 108)

“I reach for Violet because I’m not too steady on my feet and it’s a long way down if I fall. She wraps her arm around me like it’s second nature, and I lean into her and she leans into me until we make up one leaning person.” (p. 148) Who doesn’t wish for a relationship like that?

I predict this book will be very popular. I recommend it for lovers of realistic contemporary fiction that deals with issues and for readers who enjoy fiction set in Indiana. I read an advance reader copy provided by The book will be available in the young adult fiction section of the Galesburg Public Library soon.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Claire by Ellie Macdonald

Series: The Governess Club #1
Genres: Historical Romance, Adult
Release Date: September 3rd, 2013
Publisher: Avon Impulse
Source: eBook from Library

Add on Goodreads

Claire Bannister just wants to be a good teacher so that she and the other ladies of the Governess Club can make enough money to leave their jobs and start their own school in the country. But when the new sinfully handsome and utterly distracting tutor arrives, Claire finds herself caught up in a whirlwind romance that could change the course of her future.

Jacob Knightly has a secret. He is actually the notorious Earl of Rimmel. He's just posing as a tutor to escape his reputation in the city. He never expected to fall in love with the kind and beautiful governess. She is the first person to love him for himself and not his title.

But when Jacob's true identity is revealed, Claire realizes she has risked her reputation and her heart on a man she doesn't truly know. Will Jacob be able to convince her that the Wild Earl has been tamed and that she is the true countess of his heart?

This book, or more appropriately, this novella, didn’t have much going for it. It seemed very generic in terms of a historical romance but it wasn't enjoyable. I spent more time cringing than smiling at the silly antics of our characters.

Claire seems to have the basis for a strong female lead. She rarely wallows in self-pity, is confident and she doesn't let her circumstances bring her down too much. Yet at the same time she lets her employers walk over her and she doesn’t really ever stand for what she believes in. In fact, I am not even sure what she believes in. She seems to parrot Louisa’s ideas but that’s really about it.

But Claire wasn’t really my main problem with the book. Jacob was. I didn’t find Jacob swoon-worthy. He got jealous for no reason and thinks Claire is his to lay a claim on. He accuses her of purposefully avoiding dancing with him and the way he handled his jealousy was worrisome. He really needed to take a chill-pill. He never really seems to take into account that she isn’t a possession but a real human being. He says she is magic but it’s more about what she does for him than who she is or what he could in turn do for her.

Throw into that that their romance makes no sense what so ever. It comes out of nowhere. One day they don’t get along and Claire tells him he needs to stop acting like a spoiled brat and suddenly Jacob has an awakening and changes overnight (or over the course of a week) and then they are in love etc etc. How? When? Why? I get that this is a novella but I’ve read novellas where the romance is done well. Just because it’s a short story doesn’t excuse the need for development.

We know right off the bat that Jacob is hiding a secret and when the secret is revealed to Claire, she seems to react in a predictable way but that bothered me too because she over did it and chose not to listen to any of his explanations. I guess over the course of the book, I became more and more critical since there weren’t as many positive points to compensate for the little things that bothered me.

This novella also lacks a strong base.We get a very vague background story for Jacob and almost nothing for Claire. So they both are more like plot devices being used to produce a historical romance of (not so) epic proportions. 

The plot is non-existent. I get that this is historical romance, I read a lot of historical romance myself, but I find the conflict in this book lacking mostly because this novella is so centred on the romance that all the other (so called) conflicts take a back seat. 

This novella isn't a nightmare or anything, it's a nice quick read if you just want some good brain candy but don't go into this novella hoping to find your new favorite historical romance.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm

This well-written debut novel will take you into the world of a pathological liar. From the very first sentence we know that "Julie" has a problem with telling the truth. Her real name isn't even Julie, and every word that comes out of her mouth is a lie. Having had been a liar her entire life, she finds deceiving people to be quite easy. "Julie" has fled her small town of Garland, Tennessee and is now hiding out in Paris. Her only contact with her old life is from a hometown website where she searches for news on two boys that are soon to be released from prison. We don't yet know what they did, but one thing is for sure: We know that "Julie" had something to do with it. If you like psychologically-themed novels, this one will keep you turning the pages! Read On!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Murder at Mullings by Dorothy Cannell

I have mixed feelings about Murder at Mullings. I liked the concept (“In its 300-year history, there has never once been a scandal at Mullings, ancestral home of the decent but dull Stodmarsh family. Until 1932, that is….”). But the book moved so slowly for me. I had a very hard time sticking with it. It was very wordy, and with so little character development I had difficulty keeping everyone straight. The first 10 pages of the book could easily have been a novel in themselves, as they cover 21 years in the life of housekeeper Florence Norris.

I don’t mind a slow-moving plot when character development is the focus, but this is the first book I can recall where plot was sacrificed for setting and manners. This book felt more like a long-winded proposal for a television series than a novel. Even the way the characters were described seemed like guidance for the person casting the series (for example, Inspector LeCrane: “He was tall, with a narrow face dominated by a long, beaky nose, which would have done the suggested species of bird proud. Ned put him in his mid- to –late-forties. No visible gray in his dark hair.” (p. 212)). I found the first 150 pages of this 247 page book to be set-up for the final 100 pages.

There are two murders in the book, set several years apart. An ornamental hermit is thrown at us as a red herring and for a bit of period eccentricity, but the murderer was not difficult to guess. I kept reading because I kept thinking a book I would enjoy was in there someone, and I got it at last in the final 40 pages. I would rate most of the book two stars, and the last 40 pages four stars.

I’ve not seen Downton Abbey, but Murder at Mullings is clearly aimed directly at the fans of that series. If you like slow moving fiction covering a 40-year-span that is more focused on the setting and manners than the plot or characters, you might enjoy this book. This is the first book in a series; the second is due to be published in July 2015.

Murder at Mullings is available in the adult fiction section of the Galesburg Public Library and in the library’s ebook collection.

The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig

The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig is a dystopian novel set several hundred years after “the blast,” a nuclear war that ruined the world. “Before the blast, they say there’d been sermons about fire, about the end of the world. The fire itself gave the last sermon; after that there were no more.” (p. 13 of the advance reader copy)

At first, there were few surviving babies. Three or four generations after the blast, twins began to appear. One perfect baby and one imperfect, mutated baby. One Alpha baby and one Omega baby. At first, some tried to kill the imperfect baby only to discover a chilling truth – when one twin died, the other died. Now society is divided into the Alphas and the Omegas. As soon as it is clear which baby is the deformed one, he or she is cast off into an Omega village, to struggle to survive on the worst land with the least resources. The Alphas know they can’t kill their Omega twins, but they make life harsh for them.

Every now and then, an Omega baby’s deformity is manifested as the ability to glimpse the future. The narrator, the unoriginally named Cassandra, is one of these seers, otherwise normal.

Most twins don’t stay together long enough to form a bond, but since it is not clear at first which child is the Omega child when a seer is born, twins with a seer stay together longer. Cass and her twin Zach lived together with their parents until they were 13, when Cass was forced to leave home. Zach has joined the Alpha government, determined to make a name for himself and change society. The book opens with Cass being taken from her home and thrown in a cell. Powerful Alphas often “protect” their twins in some manner, so the Alphas can’t be assassinated through the murder of their twins.

The book starts very slowly. The world building is gradual. The author does not dump all the information on the reader at once. However, once Cass meets up with a mysterious one-armed prisoner who has no memory of his past, escapes, and goes on the run with him, the book really takes off. I was pulled right into the story after that. It was refreshing to have an adult narrator (in her twenties) instead of a teenager for once.

Some of the plot specifics are hard to believe or clich├ęd. Cass loudly breaks a glass case with a wrench while trying to escape her prison. She and Kip, the amnesiac, come across a party in a barn at an Omega settlement and dance freely in the shadows despite the danger. When Kip reveals something Cass wants to keep secret, she goes on a rampage, throwing breakable objects at the door. There is a love triangle that feels forced (are women authors even allowed to publish stories without love triangles anymore?).

But it’s an engaging story despite these occasional lapses. Although dystopian plots have been done often, this one manages to find some original ideas to include. The book ends with two big surprises, one I anticipated and one I did not.

There are some lovely passages. For example, “There were no written tales or pictures of the blast. What was the point of writing it, or drawing it, when it was etched on every surface? Even now, more than four hundred years after it had destroyed everything, it was still visible in every tumbled cliff, scorched plain, and ash-clogged river. Every face. It had become the only story the earth could tell, so who else would record it?” (p. 13 of the advance reader copy) The Omega children are all sterile; Cass wonders, “Was that the one thing Omegas are spared? Since we can’t have children, at least we’d never have to experience sending a child away.” (p. 25 of the ARC)

I feel the author missed an opportunity to make the reader think about the economic disparities of our own society. Perhaps the sequel will get be a little meatier. I definitely plan to read the sequel, and I recommend The Fire Sermon for those who enjoy dystopian fiction and strong female leads. The book is scheduled to be published in March 2015. I read an advance reader copy from