Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Book Review: When I Am Through with You, by Stephanie Kuehn

When I Am Through with You by Stephanie Kuehn book cover and review
While a bit far-fetched, When I Am Through with You is exciting and compelling.

A teenager, Ben, tells the story from his prison cell and it is apparent very early that he has killed his girlfriend, Rose. While this may seem like a confessional, it is really a survival story. Ben is excited for his first trip away from home, where he has been taking care of his alcoholic mother for years.  He's going to lead a group of teens on a hike up a mountain. Everything turns sideways very quickly, and soon the teens are fighting for their lives.

These teens could be considered misfits. Ben certainly has a sordid past and suffers from debilitating migraines, The reason for this is clearly some trauma in his past, but we don't find out the details until later in the story.  The other characters are distinct individuals with their own hang-ups that all adds to the drama. The plot hinges on some unlikely coincidences and a plethora of bad decisions made by these teens.  The lone adult along for supervision gives Ben too much independence, given his inexperience. But without this, there would be no story.

The pace is riveting, and although the reader can easily see the dire consequences coming, it still kept me turning pages. And the consequences are indeed drastic, as several characters meet with violent ends. The text is rife with f-bombs and many sexual situations, so I would keep it for mature teens only.

Even though we know from the beginning that Ben is incarcerated, the ending felt unfinished and unsatisfying. I just wanted more. I didn't feel like Ben should be in prison, and I want to know how this all turns out.

Teens who can handle some brutal violence and a less-than-happy resolution will enjoy this compelling struggle

Published by Dutton BFYR, August 1, 2017
ARC obtained from Libraries Unlimited
290 pages

Rating: 3/5





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Monday, July 24, 2017

Book Review: Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit book cover and review
Historical fiction is my favorite genre, and I've read many World War II books.  I am surprised to say that Anna and the Swallow Man isn't going to be on my list of favorites.

Seven-year-old Anna is abandoned in Krakow when the Germans take her father. She happens upon an unusual man, the Swallow Man, and they hook up and walk around for years.  It isn't clear why they keep walking.  Just to stay safe and keep fed, I guess.  And maybe the Swallow Man is avoiding something.

I think my main problem with Anna and the Swallow Man is the third person point-of-view.  I wanted to feel what Anna felt.  But I didn't.  I felt detached from everything that happened.

And I was very unhappy with the ending.  Really? That's what happened?  It wasn't dramatic. And it didn't provide much closure.

The characterizations are very interesting. And the individual struggles they overcame were compelling. The writing was easy to understand and Anna and the Swallow Man is a very quick read.

I didn't hate Anna and the Swallow Man.  I just didn't feel much for it.  Not my usual reaction to stories of survival during WWII. There are plenty of very positive reviews available so make sure you don't write this off just because of my feelings.  I feel kind of guilty that I didn't really like it much...

Published by Knopf BFYR, 2016
Copy obtained from the library
232 pages

Rating: 3/5





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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Book Review: Take the Key and Lock Her Up by Ally Carter

Take the Key and Lock Her Up by Ally Carter, book cover and review
Take the Key and Lock Her Up is the third book in the Embassy Row series. Now these books aren't really serious, but they are fun and I enjoyed this new installment.

Grace is in hiding and soon on the run again, as we catch up with her.  She knows she and her brother, Jamie, are being hunted down so they can be killed before they can rightfully claim the throne in Adria. 

Grace wants nothing to do with being a princess or a queen, but she can't seem to convince anyone who matters.  She has to figure out what her mother knew and why she was killed.  There has to be a way to save her life and not be in hiding for the rest of it.

The plot sounds heavy, but reads like a very lighthearted book.  The danger never really seems real.  The scenario is way too far out to be taken seriously. There is romance and lots of action to keep your interest. Even though it seems like Grace can't trust anyone, there are her tried-and-true friends from the previous books that come to her aid.

I did feel a bit bored for part of Take the Key and Lock Her Up, even though it reads pretty quickly.  It just seems like more of the same--somewhat of a repeat of the first two books--even though we finally learn the secrets.  And, I had to know what was going to happen. Fortunately, there is a nice, comfortable resolution for Grace and her friends.

Take the Key and Lock Her Up will make much more sense if you read the first two books--All Fall Down and See How They Run. Fans of those books surely won't want to miss this one.

Published by Scholastic, 2016
Copy obtained from the library
327 pages

Rating: 3.5





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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Book Review: King's Cage by Victoria Aveyard

King's Cage by Victoria Aveyard book cover and review
King's Cage does a great job continuing the story of the Red Queen and is very exciting and tense.

Mare is in big trouble.  She's a prisoner of King Maven and can't use her power. She sees no way out.  But during her awful imprisonment, things are progressing among the rebels and eventually they assist in Mare's escape.

Cal, of course, is working with the rebellion, and I liked how his relationship with Mare progressed once they were reunited.

There is a lot of fighting and a lot of planning to fight.  During her imprisonment, Mare is very introspective and kind of whiny.  I get she's miserable, but that went on perhaps a bit too long. The final battle is epic, but the turn things take at the very end is heartbreaking.

I really love the world that Aveyard has created.  I enjoyed looking at the map in the book -- normally, those don't do much for me, but the idea that this is a future United States is intriguing.  I like the hints we get about the distant past and how the world came to be this way.  I hope we get more of that in future books.

What will the future hold for Mare and Cal and the entire kingdom?  Once again, we will have to wait.  The Red Queen is a very popular series among my teens and they are loving this installment.

Published by HarperTeen, February 7, 2017
Copy obtained from the library
528 pages

Rating: 4/5





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Monday, July 10, 2017

Book Review: Two Nights by Kathy Reichs

Book Cover and Review: Two Nights by Kathy Reichs
I'm a huge Tempe Brennan fan, and when I saw a book by Reichs that wasn't a Tempe novel, well, I was skeptical.  I shouldn't have been.  Reichs is a great storyteller, and I thoroughly enjoyed Two Nights.

Sunnie is an ex cop with issues.  As the story progresses, we learn of her very disturbing childhood in a cult.  But she's also a tough cookie, and when called upon to find the perpetrators of a heinous bombing of a Jewish school that happened years ago, she can't resist.  One of the victims of the bombing was a young girl who disappeared.

Sunnie is being bankrolled by the missing girl's grandmother, and her investigation takes her to several cities, and she in involved in several altercations with some very bad people.  Her life is in danger several times.  She eventually calls on her twin brother for backup.

The main character is well-developed and interesting.  I liked how we got chapters that were back in time, during her vary harrowing experiences in the cult and her escape.  The other characters are not as well defined, serving to support Sunnie and the plot.

The story unfolds with some unexpected plot twists.  The pacing is excellent, keeping the reader hooked as the tension ebbs and flows. The conclusion is realistic and mostly happy.

If you are a fan of Reichs, and even if you aren't, Two Nights is a worthwhile investment. I think teens will enjoy this one too.

Published by Bantam, July 11, 2017
eARC obtained from NetGalley
336 pages

Rating: 4/5





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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Book Thoughts: Caraval, by Stephanie Garber

Caraval, by Stephanie Garber book cover and review
I'm calling this "Book Thoughts" instead of a book review because I didn't read the entire book.  And, as cliche as it is, this is totally a "this is me, not you" thing.

Caraval is a magical book set in a made-up world.  And that's where my problem comes in.  I just need there to be something at least a bit realistic in my fantasy.  Yes, the characters were human, and that's a plus. Once the story got going and I figured out the premise, I realized Scarlett was going to have to make her way through Caraval and nothing is as it seems, and you can't believe anything, and she will totally rely on magical things happening, I was pretty much done.

The story is well written and the plot moves fairly quickly.  But I just wasn't interested in the journey she was taking.  However, I did want to know the outcome, so I read the last 100 pages.  Basically, I read the first 150 pages, and the last 100.

I've heard pretty much nothing but rave reviews of Caraval, and I don't disagree with them.  I just don't have patience for this type of story.

Published by Flatiron, January 31, 2017
Copy obtained from the library
250/416 pages

Rating: DNF





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Monday, July 3, 2017

Book Review: Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris

Behind Closed Doors, by B. A. Paris book cover and review
Oh my goodness.  Behind Closed Doors wound me so tight, I had to take breaks during my reading (and still read it in one day.)

Jack and Grace have the perfect marriage, the perfect life.  They live in a beautiful house, Grace doesn't have to work outside the house, and they are very happy.  But...all of that is only appearances.

In reality, Jack literally keeps Grace locked in a room as his hostage.  Grace has a sister with Down Syndrome who Jack holds above Grace's head anytime she won't behave.  Because Jack has custody of Grace's sister. How will Grace ever get out of this situation?  Jack is preparing for Grace's sister to come live with them so he can literally torture her, and Grace has to figure something out before it's too late.

The books is told flipping from past to present scenes, which works beautifully to explain how Grace got herself in the predicament.  And eventually, past and present come together for a spectacular ending.

I do have to make one comment that really bothered me.  I was reading an ARC, but it is of the paperback release.  The book is already out in hardback.  And Paris says the sister has "Down's syndrome."  The proper name of this genetic abnormality is "Down Syndrome."  I can't believe someone didn't catch that.

This book made me very tense.  Like I said, I had to take a couple of breaks.  And I did read it in a day (I was on vacation, so that helped.)  Some of the situations were a little contrived.  How Jack was so easily able to convince everyone Grace was emotionally unstable was a bit to easy.  But the end result was a great, suspenseful read. Jack is so diabolical. The way he sets up Grace to try to escape, just so he can punish her is fascinating and horrific.

And the ending was perfect.  No ambiguity here, everything ties up neatly. Highly recommended. I think my older teens will like Behind Closed Doors too.

Published by St. Martin's Griffin, paperback release July 3, 2017
eARC obtained from NetGalley
352 pages

Rating: 4/5





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Monday, June 26, 2017

Book Review: Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham book cover and review
Dreamland Burning is a powerful book.  I know I'm not the first to say that, but it's the truth.  Gut wrenching.

Dreamland Burning uses dual narration effectively.  Rowan narrates from the present, as human bones are found in the floor of what used to be the servants quarters in her century old house in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Rowan's family doesn't have servants, but they are wealthy.  Her mother is African American and her father is Caucasian.

Will is the other narrator, who slowly takes us through the events leading up to and during the Tulsa riot in 1921. Will's father is Caucasian and his mother is Native American. And yes, he does reveal whose body is under the floor and I was surprised.  The clues are vague, but tend to lead in a different direction.

It's a good thing the narration switches back and forth.  When it got to the point where my discomfort was getting to be too much, the narration switched at just the right time.  This pulls you through the book very quickly.

Dreamland Burning is much more than a forensic investigation, although that lends a very interesting aspect to the story.  It's an examination of race relations in the 1920s and perhaps more importantly, in the current day.

The messages are powerful.  But the story is captivating and in no way preachy. I'm a white woman who lives about 25 miles from Ferguson, Missouri, and I have preconceived notions about "justice" and those notions recently  have been constantly in flux.  (Not that proximity means I have more feelings than anyone else, but somehow seeing your locality portrayed on the news night after night seems more personal.) Dreamland Burning has helped to clarify those feelings some more.

I'm not here to rant, but this story has a nice, fairly happy ending -- at least it seems like it might.  I'm not sure many of the other stories recently in the news do.

Somehow I've got to get my teens to read this book.  It seems like they either all go for fantasy or romance, not hard-hitting contemporary novels.  I may just force this one on my book club next year...

Published by Little, Brown BFYR February 21, 2017
Copy obtained from the library
371 pages

Rating: 5/5





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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Book Review: Local Girl Missing by Claire Douglas @Dougieclaire

Local Girl Missing by Claire Douglas book cover and review
Local Girl Missing is told with a dual narration of both time and place and will leave you guessing until the very end.

Everything from the past comes back to Frankie when remains are found that are believed to be those of her best friend, Sophie, who disappeared eighteen years ago.  Sophie's brother, Daniel, asks her to come back to their small coastal town, to help him identify the remains and see if they can try one more time to find out what happened.  Sophie was believed to have fallen off the pier, and the police have ruled it an accident.  But Daniel and Frankie don't believe that.

Sophie narrates the story from eighteen years prior, starting a few months before her disappearance.  She is falling in love with Leon, and Frankie is convinced he's bad news.

Frankie visits Leon in the present, and he indicates that he "knows" about Frankie's secret.  Frankie wonders if Sophie told him about his cousin James' death back when they were teenagers.  Frankie and Sophie were also involved in that, and their secret was supposed to be safe.

There's a lot going on in this one, but it doesn't get confusing.  Local Girl Missing is tightly plotted and events unfold quickly enough to keep you guessing.  I believed, at times, that Frankie is an unreliable narrator, given the weird things that are happening to her.  I won't tell you if that is really the case or not.

The less you know about the plot the better.  I thoroughly enjoyed this mystery, that takes place on the British coast.  There are a lot of "Britishisms" that were entertaining to me (dustbins?)

This story is totally accessible to teens also.  Those who like twisted mysteries will enjoy Local Girl Missing.

Published by Harper, July 4, 2017
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
352 pages

Rating: 4.5/5





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