Friday, September 22, 2017

Book Review: Invictus, by Ryan Graudin @ryangraudin

Invictus by Ryan Graudin book cover and review
Yes, Graudin can write science fiction! And Invictus was as enjoyable as all her other novels.

Farway's mother was jumping through time when he was born, so he literally has no birthday.  In this future, you can train to be a recorder of history by visiting the actual time period. Farway wants nothing more than to follow in his mother's footsteps and become a historian. He would also like to find his mother, who disappeared somewhere in the past when Far was a young boy.

Farway bombs his final exam and instead of recording history he ends up traveling in time for the black market that deals with bringing valuable items from the past to the present before they are lost.  For example, you could go to the Titanic and steal all the valuable jewels right before it sinks. And this is the type of stuff that Far does with his crew that is made up of his cousin, his girlfriend, and a very good friend.  When their mission is thwarted by Eliot, a time-traveler of a different sort, everything changes and becomes very deadly for the crew of the Invictus.

Graudin's rules for time travel make Invictus pretty easy to follow (unlike some time travel books I've read where things just don't make sense.)  Some of Eliot's tricks (like her magical bag) do stretch the imagination a bit, though.  We get a glimpse into several different historical time periods which is enjoyable.

The action is fast-paced and riveting. When I wasn't reading, I was thinking about Invictus (which is always a good sign.) The ending is a bit complicated, but Graudin manages to pull it off. If there's one small complaint it would be the romance.  There wasn't much build up.  All of a sudden you realize, "Oh, they are a couple!" Not a big deal, but I thought there could have been a bit more earlier in the book.

Invictus seems like it could be a stand-alone,  but I would love for the story to continue. This one is going to get pushed to my teen readers.  I think they will love it.

Published by Little, Brown, BFYR, September 26, 2017
eARC obtained from NetGalley
464 pages

Rating: 4.5/5





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Friday, September 15, 2017

Book Review: Nyxia by Scott Reintgen @Scott_Thought

Nyxia by Scott Reintgen book cover and review
I loved Nyxia. And yes, it should be compared to Ender's Game, which I love too, but it also stands on its own.

The Babel Corporation has recruited some teens from all over the earth to go to a distant planet and mine for (and steal) a substance called Nyxia. This substance can be reformed into anything, can cure you of illness and injury, can make you stronger, and as you will find out, can do even more. There are ten kids recruited, and no one knows why they have been chosen, but they all have issues.

Success on this three-year commitment means they will be rich beyond their wildest dreams. And even while they are travelling, their families on Earth are benefitting. The first chink in this perfect scenario that our recruits discover is that only 8 of the 10 get to actually go to the planet.  They must compete relentlessly during their one-year trip to the planet. And they will discover some other "chinks" too.

Emmett is our narrator.  His issue is that his mother has kidney disease and needs a transplant.  And also, he's got a temper and can be violent. One of the first tests is for the recruits to learn how to manipulate Nyxia.  They also learn about the inhabitants of the planet, who only like children, since they can't have them anymore.  They are hostile to adults.  Hence the need for teens on this mission.

Each test gets more and more difficult, and the recruits get to know each other better -- at least some of them. The story really clips along and the tension builds nicely.  There are ups and downs, not all will survive, and some big twists at the end. As expected in all science fiction, there are some plot holes, and you have to suspend some disbelief.

The story isn't finished at the end of Nyxia, so of course, the sequel can't come soon enough.  Sci-fi fans should definitely get their hands on this one.  I can already see it on the big screen...

Published by Crown BFYR, September 12, 2017
eARC obtained from NetGalley
384 pages

Rating: 4.5/5





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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Audiobook Review: Natchez Burning, by Greg Iles

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles book cover an review
At almost 36 hours, I think Natchez Burning is the longest book I've ever listened to. But it was good!

Natchez Burning is the 4th book in the Penn Cage series.  I didn't realize that.  Somehow I thought it was the first.  But as I was listening, it seemed like some of the things referred to were probably in a previous book.  I don't think it's necessary to read the others first, though. (Although I have put them on my list.)

Penn Cage is the mayor of Natchez, Mississippi.  His father, Dr. Tom Cage, has been a respected physician in Natchez since the 1960s.  He is respected by both white and black people and has always treated them fairly.  When Tom is accused of murdering his long-time African American nurse from the 1960s, Penn believes there won't be a problem clearing him given his reputation.  His nurse, Viola, was in the last days of suffering from cancer, and even though euthanasia is illegal, with Tom's reputation things should be okay.

But they are not.  Tom is keeping secrets from Penn, and they have to do with an elite group of the KKK called the Double Eagles murdering several African Americans in the 1960s. Penn hooks up with Henry Sexton, a local reporter who has been researching these cases for many years, to try to figure out how to help his father.  And Henry, of course, wants to bring the Double Eagles to justice.

This story goes on and on, but there's never a dull moment.  Iles provides quite a bit of background at times, but Natches Burning never failed to keep my interest. There are many colorful (and vile) characters who are constantly putting each other in danger. And many descriptions of torture beyond belief. It is incredible to me that this all happens in the span of four or five days, I believe.

The harrowing conclusion builds and builds and I had invested so much time, but I still thought the ending was really abrupt. There were some major loose ends that are left hanging, and I just needed more wrap up of the aftermath and time for my emotions to subside.

The narrator, David Ledoux, has a great voice and distinguishes the characters without going over the top.  He is, however, pretty slow.  After about half way through (and my third time checking this out), I decided speeding it up to 1.5X was perfect. (I used my library's audio download service, which automatically checks things back in after 3 weeks.  There was a wait list for this book, so I had to wait three times in between listening. This took me a while to finish.)

I enjoyed Natchez Burning and like Penn Cage enough to see what else he gets up to.  If you are willing to spend the time, I highly recommend it.

Published by William Morrow, 2014, audio by HarperAudio, 2015
Audiobook obtained from the library
880 pages

Rating: 4/5





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Monday, September 11, 2017

Book Review: Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez book cover and review
Out of Darkness is not really a book about the school explosion that happened in east Texas in 1937.  It's a story about a family in turmoil before and after the explosion. It was just a bit unexpected. Granted, the blurb says "a multilayered tale," but I don't usually pay too much attention to descriptions.

We experience the horror of the explosion at the beginning of the book, then we are taken back about six months to get to know our victims.  Naomi has just been brought to live with her stepfather, Henry.  She has a sister and brother who are twins and are biological children of Henry.  Her mother died shortly after the twins' birth and they have been living with grandparents.

Henry is doing well digging for oil and he has found God.  He is convinced by his preacher that God wants him to bring his children to live with him, so he does.  There are separate schools for black and white kids.  Since the twins and Henry are white, Naomi, who is Mexican, goes to the white school. She meets an African American boy named Wash.  He begins spending a lot of time with the twins, and eventually, he and Naomi begin a secret romantic relationship.

Things get more and more complicated for Naomi and Wash, and that's pretty much all I want to say about the plot.  At about 300 pages, the explosion occurs and we get more details about it, but we still move on from that very quickly.

This is not a happy book.  Throughout the entire narrative, Naomi is struggling.  And we know what is coming.  And when it comes, don't expect a "happily ever after."  It's been a long time since I've read a book that really had no uplifting qualities.  It was written well, and the characters and situations were interesting.  But I am really glad to be finished, and I find myself a bit angry at   Pérez. I need to move on.  I woke up early this morning thinking about this story,  and I still feel a bit sick when I do.

So, do I recommend Out of Darkness? Well, given the previous paragraph, I'll leave it up to you.

Published by Carolrhoda, 2015
Copy obtained from the library
401 pages

Rating: 3.5/5





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Monday, September 4, 2017

Book Review: The Door to January by Gillian French

The Door to January by Gillian French book cover and review
The Door to January did not give me the thrills I was hoping for.

Natalie has nightmares about a traumatic event that happened two years ago. The nightmares aren't only about this event -- they are pulling her towards an old abandoned house in the town where she used to live. She feels compelled to go back to her old town for the summer and face her fears.  She is staying with her aunt and her cousin, Teddy.  Teddy is the only one who knows the real reason Natalie has returned.

Natalie and Teddy visit the old house and set up a recorder.  Weird things begin to happen.  There are really three POVs in The Door to January.  We get Natalie's normal POV but also her dreams (which are in italics) and then she goes back in time for another POV.  These sections from the past, where she is seeing the old inhabitants of the house, were not formatted correctly in the eARC.  I'm sure that will be better in the final copy. The story lines all mesh together -- the past, the dreams, and the present -- to an exciting conclusion.

It's hard to put my finger on why The Door to January just didn't do it for me.  I never felt much suspense or many thrills.  I liked the premise and the way things from the past were slowly revealed.  But it just wasn't believable to me. I think maybe the story needed more depth.  It is very short, and things happened quickly.  In this case, maybe a little too quickly. Natalie seemed to take things very much in stride. She should have been freaking out! That's what I mean by depth. We needed to get more time for reactions to each new revelation before the next one came along.

I'm being somewhat picky.  I think for the intended audience, The Door to January would be appealing. And, like I said, it's a quick read and really moves.  So this may be a good choice for reluctant readers.

Published by Islandport, September 5, 2017
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
200 pages

Rating: 3/5





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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Book Review: A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas book cover and review
Wow! A Court of Wings and Ruin is just stunning in its complex world and nonstop action.

Feyre and Rhys and all of the High Lords of Prythian are in the fight of their lives (again.) As the book opens, Feyre is with Tamlin pretending that she was forced to be with Rhys and the Night Court.  She's gathering information to help learn how to defeat Hybern's massive army. She eventually returns to the Night Court and much of the book is spent preparing for this inevitable attack, trying to get the other High Lords to band together to save the world as they know it.  But will it be enough?

A Court of Wings and Ruin is a long book.  And I worried that the detail would bog down the plot. There would be a slow moving section of the story.  But I didn't find that at all.  There were constant challenges and obstacles to overcome.  Additional characters appeared and the addition of many twists all throughout the story made the entire book compelling.

A Court of Wings and Ruin, as are all the book in the series, is very detailed.  It's hard to keep all the lords and courts straight.  Keeping track of the characters and constantly changing allegiances is challenging. But that's also what made me love this series.  I very rarely plan to read a series again (I'm just not a re-reader, in general), but there is enough that I missed in the first book (and second) that I think I would thoroughly enjoy reading all three books again at some point.  Things that you gloss over and think aren't important become very meaningful in future books.

I highly recommend A Court of Wings and Ruin and the entire series (A Court of Thorns and Roses and A Court of Mist and Fury) to mature young adults and adults. "Mature" because these books are pretty sexually graphic. It is a great fantasy world that will keep you captivated.

Published by Bloomsbury Childrens, May 2, 2017
Copy obtained from the library
720 pages

Rating: 4.5/5





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Monday, August 21, 2017

Audio Book Review: Gray Mountain by John Grisham

Gray Mountain by John Grisham book cover and review
It's been a while since I've read a John Grisham, and while I enjoyed Gray Mountain, it wasn't a typical, heart-pounding drama like The Firm (one of my favorites of his.)

Gray Mountain is the story of a person, Samantha Kofer, not of a dramatic court case.  Samantha has been laid off from her mega law firm in New York because of the recession. She is working as an unpaid intern for a legal aid clinic in back woods Appalachia. Throughout the book, Samantha is deciding if she wants to return to New York and make a lot of money in a city she loves working at a job she hates, or stay in Brady, Virginia, where she feels like she can really help some people, but there's no social life and little opportunity for a large salary.

From the beginning, a savvy reader will know where Samantha is going to end up, but not exactly how she will reach this decision.  Grisham writes well and makes it interesting.  There are several other very interesting characters and a surprising twist in the middle of the book. The horrors of the coal industry, which if Grisham has done his usual research are mostly true, are horrifying and heartbreaking.  So there is an "issue" here, but not one large case filled with courtroom intrigue.

We get an ending for Samantha--a decision.  But there isn't any real closure to the many other side stories and cases that are outstanding  I've seen some reviewers who wonder if there will be another story about Samantha so we can find the answers that are missing from Gray Mountain, but nothing from Grisham.

The audiobook is narrated by Catherine Taber, who is a bit slow paced, but not enough for me to speed it up. All of her southern accents sound the same, so once in a while, I got confused about which character was speaking, but once again, it wasn't too big of a problem.

Gray Mountain is a worthwhile read, but a bit different that Grisham's usual courtroom sagas.

Published by Doubleday, 2014, audio book by Random House
Audiobook obtained from the library
480 pages

Rating: 3.5/5





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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Rowling, Tiffany, & Thorne

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child book cover and review
We are all desperate for more Harry Potter and the story of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was great but left me wanting...

Harry and Draco Malfoy's kids, Albus and Scorpius, are going to Hogwarts. Surprisingly, they become friends.  When they decide to steal a time turner and go back in time to save the life of an old character, all hell breaks loose.  Well, of course it does.  Everyone knows you can't go back and change a huge event without serious consequences in the present.  And Albus and Scorpius find this out very quickly.  And then they try to undo what they've done.

You can probably guess this is a very exciting story. Fit for Harry Potter.  But the writing, that of a play script, just didn't do it for me.  I so wanted J. K. to just tell the story.  Give me the descriptions of setting and characters.  I wanted to feel immersed as I did with the other Harry Potter novels.  But Harry Potter and the Cursed Child felt very superficial.  Like I was being told a story instead of living in it.

I want more.  I feel cheated.  But I would still recommend Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to Potter fans.  After all, it's the only game in town.

Published by Arthur A. Levine Books, 2016
Copy obtained from the library
327 pages

Rating: 3/5





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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Book Review: After the Game by Abbi Glines

After the Game, by Abbi Glines book cover and review
I'm picky about my romantic contemporary novels, but After the Game has enough substance included, and I really enjoyed it.

The story of Riley and Brady is a high school romance with an emphasis on family, forgiveness, and responsibility. Riley and her parents have recently returned to Lawton, Alabama, after being run out of town because she accused Rhett, the high school football star, of rape.  They have returned to take care of Riley’s grandmother, who is suffering from Alzheimer's.  Riley has also brought a child that was a product of that rape. Rhett is away at college, living the dream as if nothing happened.

Riley is shunned, and sometimes worse, by pretty much everyone in the town. No one believed her about the rape, and no one knows about the baby.  No one has been welcoming; in fact, her old friends have been much the opposite-- until Brady, a football star who was Rhett's best friend, picks her and the baby up during a rainstorm.

Riley’s parents are refreshingly present and supportive.  The story follows the expected path, but there is some depth added with the Alzheimer’s angle and also Brady dealing with seeing his father having sex with a woman who is not Brady’s mother.

Brady is the best quarterback in the nation, and the team is on their way to a state championship.  So developing a relationship with Riley and revealing his father’s transgressions are not something Brady needs to focus on with his scholarship on the line.  But he cannot avoid either one of these issues.

Brady is a “too good to be true” guy and Riley is a  bit perfect for a teen mom, but their relationship takes a natural, slow progression that is refreshing. For teens who enjoy a feel-good high school romance, this one will definitely satisfy.

Published by Simon Pulse, August 22, 2017
ARC obtained from Libraries Unlimited
352 pages

Rating: 4/5





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