Monday, April 30, 2012

The Ghost, by Robert Harris

Phenomenal thriller.
When a ghostwriter is offered the chance to write the autobiography of a former Prime Minister, he jumps at the chance, but as he starts reaching back into the past, he learns more than is safe to know.
This was just exceptional in every way- a perfect tense thriller with teasing hints of veiled reality, no gore, but a lucid and wonderfully written book.
So freaking good.

Guy Langman: Crime Scene Procrastinator, by Josh Berk

This was a really enjoyable, entertaining and moving novel.
When Guy's best friend Anoop convinces him to join the school Forensics Club (to meet girls), they have no idea that they will encounter some real mysteries.
Guy's voice was clear and distinct, and his relationships and world felt very real. Anoop, Maureen, and other supporting characters were drawn with grace and humor.

The Toxic Sandbox, by Libby McDonald

Clear and informative (if terrifying) look at toxins that affect children and how to avoid them. Well done, without being too fear-mongering. Made me take a closer look at where my baby's toys are coming from and what they are made of.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Dark Eyes, by William Richter

A fast-paced, engrossing thriller with some flaws.
Wally/Valentina is an interesting protagonist - adopted from a Russian orphanage at 5, she is now 16, and a runaway in NYC.
Her crew of fellow runaways follow her leadership, and when she finds a hint to her past, they help her try to discover what it means, although danger soon follows.
Well done, and very cinematic.
Really solid dead-friend book.
When Rain's ex-bestie Wendy is found dead in Central Park, the media is quick to paint Wendy as a party girl who was headed for disaster, but as Rain tries to find out more about the last hours of Wendy's life, she discovers layers of lies and betrayal.
Rain and Wendy were both very believable characters, and their relationship to each other and to others felt very realistic. The NYC private school thing was nicely done, showing the strata of society these girls were around, without making it over the top Gossip Girl style, and the supporting characters were fleshed out as well.
I felt that it took Rain a little too long to figure out what happened, but, that said, I really liked this well-written mystery.

What Boys Really Want, by Pete Hautman

Alternating narraration by Lita and Adam, best friends from childhood, tells the story of how Adam came to write a book on what boys really want in dating. Outlandish and unconvincing.

Thumped, by Megan McCafferty

Sequel to last year's Bumped.
This was very much a sequel- I don't know if it would stand alone, but luckily I had read Bumped, so was able to jump right in without getting too lost.
Harmony and Melody, twins raised apart in a near future where a virus has affected human reproduction, and female fertility ends at around 18, are international celebrities for both being pregnant with twins. In Bumped, the girls find each other, but Harmony was raised in a kind of God-fearing commune situation, and Melody on the Outside, is putting her surrogate skills up for sale in a bidding war.
Melody's hired star inseminator Jondoe falls in love with Harmony, and is the father of her twins, instead of Ram, the husband she has inside the commune...
OK, I'm going to stop with the annotating.
While thought provoking and timely in addressing women's reproductive rights, this didn't really stand alone, and the ending was very wrap-it-all-up and happy endings for everyone to feel realistic, even in the surreal world they lived in.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Assault, by Brian Falkner

Fun but silly sci-fi.
Aliens land in the Australian desert pleading refugee status, but it is only a short time until they attack.
At the point the novel starts, the only human-controlled areas are North and South America- the Free Territories.
A team of 6 teen commandos have all kinds of training and surgery to pass as Bzadians, and they attack the center of the Bzadian control, at Uluru.
Daft but fast and fun- a little too predictable though.

The Thirteen, by Susie Moloney

A little Stepford Wives, a little Stephen King, a fun witchy/horror read.

I'm With The Bears: Short Stories From a Damaged Planet, by various authors

Devastating and necessary.This collection of short stories, each addressing climate change in some way, is depressing, as another reviewer said. I can't imagine what that reader was hoping for, but yes, the devastation of our environment and our relationship with the natural world is a bit of a bummer, yes.
That said, these stories ranged from the utterly bleak ( T.C. Boyle's The Siskiyou was very disturbing) to the absolutely haunting (Lydia Millet's Zoogoing- I've read it 3 times, and it is still echoing in my mind) to looks at what water deals taking place now might mean for the American Southwest (in Paolo Bacigalupi's stunning The Tamarisk Hunter).
These stories all have a common theme, but the incredible slate of authors each use their own inimitable voices, and the chorus of them together is powerful.

Arranged, by Catherine McKenzie

Wow. I really LOVED Spin, by Catherine McKenzie, so was excited to read Arranged, but gosh, it read like it was written by a different person.
The protagonist, named Anne Blythe (over the top, no?) is so desperate to be in a relationship that she pays $10,000 to an arranged marriage service.
This book just made me depressed. Without spoiling the "plot" for other readers, this just painted Anne as a sad and lonely and rather pathetic woman unable to live without a partner.
I thought women had come along way, baby, but you'd never know it from reading this.
I felt insulted as a woman and a reader by just about everything in this book, and am profoundly disappointed, as after reading Spin, I had thought I'd found a fun, new writer writing about realistic women, but I just have to say, read Marian Keyes instead.     

Starters, by Lissa Price

Fast paced and interesting dystopia.
Teen's bodies are rented by Elders, adults who survived the Spore Wars and have utilized advanced medical technologies to the point where "250 is the new 100", and the wealthy Elders have technology that will allow them to enter and control a teen's body (while the teen is put into a medically induced comatose mental state).
There were just too many plot holes here- I really enjoyed it but it had major problems, conceptually, and in many ways it read as a mash-up of other popular dystopian novels.

Chomp, by Carl Hiaasen

As always, a fun, quirky environmentally aware caper from Hiaasen, who delivers exactly what one would expect and nothing more.

Take a Bow, by Elizabeth Eulberg

Rotating narraration from a bunch of students at a prestigious performing arts high school, but while some of the voices were very distinct, the "main" character, Emme, was a bit of a cipher, and her best frienemy Sophie was also kind of blank.
Would be popular with theater kids.

The Pregnancy Project, by Gaby Rodriguez

This was a well told story of a courageous and inspiring young woman.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and of course remembered the public frenzy when her senior project to fake a pregnancy to study stereotypes and expectations of teen parents came out, and it was great to read and get more insight into the whole thing.

The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers, by Lynn Weingarten

I finished it, but only because I was in the bath.
Very ordinary book, reminded me so much of The Magnolia League it felt like deja vu, and unexceptional in every way. Too many plot holes, including how the girls were never carded, never mentioned fake IDs, never explained how no one noticed Olivia lived alone... too much nonsense to type out.

The Way We Fall, by Megan Crewe

Quick read, but with flaws.
A pandemic on an island, the government shuts it off, and survivors struggle.
I liked it, but it had too many plot holes, and not much of a resolution.

Losers in Space, by John Barnes

Well, this has possibly the worst title ever, but was a great hard sci-fi read- John Barnes is always a great writer.
In a future where humans have achieved universal material comfort, celebrity or major talents are the only way to stand out. At a special school for teens who may prove exceptional, Susan and a group of friends are looking for a way to stand out. Susan's best friend Fleeta has already burned out on a drug called happistuff, and Susan is trying to angle for recognition points by dating Derlock, a rising celebrity.
The group finds a chance to achieve what would be epic fame, by stowing away on a Mars-bound spaceflight, only to discover that Derlock is a sociopath, and that the rest of them have more skills than they ever thought.
This was such a good read, and I REALLY loved the Notes For The Interested, a great way to give the math behind the plot without endless adult-style exposition- the reader has the option to just read the adventure, or to read the adventure and also the Notes and gain some interesting knowledge.

The Girls of No Return, by Erin Saldin

This is the second troubled-girls-sent-to-outdoors/wilderness camp/school book that I've read this year, and it was so much better than Getting Somewhere.
Lida, Jules, Boone, and Gia are all at the Alice Marshall School for different reasons, and they are pretty well developed characters. I'm still not totally sold on Lida and Jules reasons for being there, but hey, fiction is all about suspending disbelief, and it worked for the book.

Purity, by Jackson Pearce

Well, this was well written, but.
I know that these Purity Balls really do happen, but it is so far from my experience that I have no idea how realistic this book was. I don't think they do them in Rhode Island, lol!
Shelby is struggling to keep the promises she made to her dying mother, but when her father wants her to participate in the Princess Ball, she worries that her promises she made her mother will counteract the vows she is supposed to make to her father about living a pure life. She figures out, with the help of her best friend Jonas, that the thing to do is to break the purity vows before the ball, so she won't be lying (???)
So Shelby starts to look for a guy to have sex with, completely overlooking Jonas, who is so obviously in love with her...
Ugh. I don't know.

Lexapros and Cons, by Aaron Caro

This was a fun, quick read that took a very empathetic look at OCD, and the humor was nice to lighten it up -unlike, say, Kissing Doorknobs or The Butterfly Clues.
The ending was kind of silly- a real John Hughes moment, but unrealistic.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Talk to the Snail, by Stephen Clarke

Another book by Stephen Clarke, but not nearly as funny as his novels. In this one, he offers insight and jokes about understanding French society, but his own voice is not nearly as enjoyable as his fictional alter-ego, Paul West. Fun, but I hope there will be another Paul West book at some point.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Surrey State of Affairs, by Ceri Radford

Well, this was a bit of a mess- it really read like 2 books in one. The first half was a bit of a straight-up modern take on Diary of a Provincial Lady, which I do adore, but didn't translate very well to now, and the second half (well, really it came too late, more like the last quarter) was a wonderful finding-yourself kind of thing, that didn't match well with the first bit. I wish it had gone one way or the other- preferably, the other.

Two Truths and a Lie, by Sara Shepard

Another in the Lying Game series by Sara Shepard, absolutely ridic guilty pleasure YA.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Monday Mornings, by Sanjay Gupta

Really excellent, gripping novel from the incredibly impressive Sanjay Gupta.
Focusing on a group of surgeons at a prestigious teaching hospital, this was a fascinating look into the minds and backgrounds of some of the most talented and dedicated doctors in the world.
I can't imagine where Sanjay Gupta found the time to write a novel, but I'm so glad he did, and I am still thinking about some of the situations the surgeons encountered.

Welcome, Caller, This is Chloe, by Shelley Coriell

When junior Chloe is dropped by her two "best friends", and her advisor turns down her proposal to do her individual study on Villanous Vixens- The Not-So-Squeaky-Clean Women of Daytime Soap Operas, she finds herself finding refuge (and a project) trying to help turn around the school's student-run radio station.
This was a fun read, with some solid characters and a refreshing protagonist in Chloe.
I did like it that Chloe had good relationships with her family, and I found the issues her grandmother faced were handled with great sensitivity..

The List, by Siobhan Vivian

Every year, right before Homecoming, The List is anonymously released into the school, naming the Prettiest and Ugliest girls in each grade.
This had some good characterizations, and an interesting twist, and I read it in on great gulp.
It was a good read, a quick read, and one that went very well into some over-trod territory, and came out with an interesting look at how appearances can be deceiving and how motives can get so twisted.

Merde Happens, by Stephen Clarke

Yet another hysterically funny book in Clarke's international misunderstandings series featuring hapless, if handsome Paul West, this time valiantly crossing the USA in a Mini-Cooper, trying to win an international tourism promotional contest for the UK.

Pandemonium, by Lauren Oliver

Follow up to Oliver's Delirium, which I felt was a much stronger book.
In Pandemonium, Lena is in the Wilds, and fighting the system- it's very much a middle book.

Ok read, but nothing spectacular.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

I Hunt Killers, by Barry Lyga

Well written thriller, with a very dark side.
Jazz can never escape his father's legacy- a serial killer who brought his young son to murders, training him to be a killer too. Now Billy the Butcher is in jail, and Jazz is trying desperately to stay home with his demented and cruel grandmother until he is 18, and can't get sucked into the foster system.
His life is as good as he imagines it could be- he has a best friend and a girlfriend, but when bodies start turning up in his small town, he feels the town's eyes upon him, and wants to solve the crimes to prove his innocence and to try to right some wrongs.
This was powerful writing, and Jazz was a really unique protagonist.

Tessa Masterson Will Go To Prom, by Emily Franklin and Brandon Halpin

This was really good. Clearly based on the Constance McMillan 'lesbian prom' controversy, it was told in alternating chapters by Tessa herself, and her lifelong best friend Lucas, who didn't realize she was a lesbian, and asked her to go to prom with him. When she tells him no, and why, he is hurt and angry, as he feels she had lied to him by not openly telling him her orientation, and in an unfortunate escalation of events, Lucas inadvertantly begins a cultural clash to their small town. National media pick up on the story, the ACLU gets involved, and Tessa, Lucas, and the town are forever changed.
I really liked the voices- all of the characters were well drawn and fleshed out, even minor characters had memorable scenes.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters, by Meredith Zeitlin

A charming, fun, well-done bit of New Yorky fluff. A group of girls are determined to stand out in their freshman year, and each find a way to do so, through soccer, theater, boys and so on. A good bit of underage drinking, taken very casually by the 14 year old protagonist, Kelsey, but essentially a very sweet, cute novel.

Bringing Up Bebe, by Pamela Druckerman

Absolutely the best parenting book I have ever read. The first parenting book that made any sense. This made me feel so much better about being a mom, and let me shake off a lot of the guilt-trip of being an American mom. Wish I'd had this book months ago!

Vacation, by Matthew Costello

Ah, a solid, creepy, distressing and properly gory zombie apocalypse novel!!!
After how much Sadie Walker is Stranded, I was almost loath to start this one, but this title did not disappoint.
NYPD cop Jack is badly hurt in a Can Head fighting incident that left his partner dead, and he is off duty to recover. His wife and kids want to get out of their fenced in Staten Island zone, so they set off for a terrifying road trip to the Adirondacks, to Paterville Family Camp, reputed to be safe and secure.
After getting there, though, Jack and Christie find there is a hideous sinister side to the outwardly jolly camp, and their vacation turns into a nightmare.
Well written, well plotted and cinematic, this was pretty awesome.

Terrarium Craft, by Amy Aiello

Beautiful but not especially helpful book. More about creating vignettes with plants than actually creating self sustaining terrariums.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Final Four, by Paul Volponi

Wow. I really loved this, a well characterized portrait of the members of two NCAA teams meeting up in a Final Four situation.
The Michigan State Spartans, a major player in college basketball, have a stong team with one truly exceptional freshman player in Malcolm McBride- a one-and-done guy who will play NCAA for one year to become eligible for the NBA draft. His offense skills are already legenday, and like Lamar Odom, Kobe Bryant, and Magic Johnson, he will enter the NBA draft and go pro as soon as he can. His appetite for victory and his arrogance/confidence make him a bad team player, but the coach wants this prodigy player to take them far.
The Troy University Trojan are a total cinderella team- like Gonzaga in 1990, they have played far beyond everyone's expectations, and the future of the school's program will change based on their performance at the Championship, and their coach has suddenly stepped into the big leagues. Their 'star' player is defense player Roko Bacic, a red-headed Croatian who moved to America in high school after his uncle was assasinated for uncovering mafia corruption in the war-torn country. Growing up in rural Alabama, Roko's only scholarship offer came from the low-seeded school, but a team who may be tighter than the Spartans.
There are actually fantastic characterization of almost all the other players, and of the coaches as well- I really felt like many of these were very fully fleshed out, with lots of shades of grey...The writing seemed strong and descriptive to me, and I loved the kind of moral ambiguity that made most of the book so strong.

The Girl Who Could Silence The Wind, by Meg Medina

This was a lovely, moving story set in a magical-realism Latin America.
Sonia Ocampo was born the night a terrible storm beset her small mountain hamlet, but as she was born, the storm cleared, and miraculously, not a single villager had died. Since her birth, Sonia has been treated as a bearer of blessings, the girl to ask for prayers to cure sickness, create love, make it rain. She is exhausted from bearing the wishes of her community, and takes a chance to leave to work in the City, a long voyage by train. She knows she will miss Pancho, a young poet/bike taxi driver
In Casa Mason, the home of wealthy widow Katerina Mason, she is a housemaid rather than a angel, and she is sexually harassed by the son of the house.
When she finds her brother is missing and finds that he too was trying to come to the City but never made it, Sonia and Pancho leave to try to rescue her beloved brother.

Masque of the Red Death, by Bethany Griffin

With a terrible plague ruining the city, 16 year old Araby and her best friend April run wild in the city's notorious Debauchery Club, where only the wealthy and healthy can use drink and drugs to seek oblivion. Araby's father is the scientist who created the masks that keep citizens who can afford them safe, while the poor of the city have no protection from contagion.
When the Debauchery club doorman, Will, saves Araby from overdose one night, she begins to see that there is more to life than she knew, and soon has to decide for herself what is right and what is wrong, rather than what glamorous tattered gown she should wear to go party every night. Steampunky romantic plague-ridden dystopia- awesome!

The Daughters Join The Party, by Joanne Philbin

Weak entry into the Daughters series. New daughter Emma is the vaguely rebellious daughter of a senator about to enter a presidential campaign, and she bitches about it every damn second, until she finds she is an asset to the campaign.

Sadie Walker is Stranded, by Madeline Roux

Very middling zombie apocalypse. Frustrating, in that nothing really HAPPENED, and the book ended without any kind of resolution or even any real change.