Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Book Review: The Midnight Dance by Nikki Katz

The Midnight Dance by Nikki Katz book cover and review
Have you ever tried to write a review for a book for which you just don't have much, good or bad, to say?  The Midnight Dance is that book.

Penny goes to a school that specializes in ballet.  She is part of twelve elite dancers that have the privilege of attending this prestigious school, compliments of their mysterious Master. They are never allowed to leave and must perform as the Master wishes.

Weird things begin to happen to Penny.  She realizes she is forgetting periods of time.  She starts to have memories that don't mesh with what she has been told was her life.  When she touches the handsome kitchen boy, Cricket, her memories come back, and they are horrific.  She realizes that Master has been manipulating their minds, but how?

She and Cricket are out to discover the truth and figure out a way not only for Penny, but for all of the dancers, to escape.

The Midnight Dance is an enjoyable, creepy read.  However, I never really connected with the characters.  I felt like an observer rather than a participant that was fully invested in the story.  I'm not sure what makes a story resonate with a reader -- I'm not a writer.  This is one that I appreciated while reading, but it won't stick with me for long. The writing is fine; the pacing seemed okay.  I didn't really buy all the technical stuff and the Master's ability to create such a hold on these girls.  There are flashbacks of the Master and his past, which were effective. I just didn't feel the drama or pulse-pounding trepidation that I was supposed to feel.

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend The Midnight Dance to teens.  Others may have a different reaction than I did.

Published by Swoon Reads, October 17, 2017
eARC obtained from NetGalley
320 pages

Rating: 3/5

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Book Review: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

A short, powerful book written in narrative verse, Long Way Down will get you thinking.

Will is fifteen years old and his older brother, Shawn, has just been murdered. He's following the rules his brother taught him: No crying, No snitching, and Get revenge.

He puts his brother's gun in the back of his jeans and gets on the elevator.  As it stops on each floor, Will is visited by ghosts from the past.  The guy who gave Shawn the gun and a girl who was shot on the playground when they were young, among others. So what is Will going to do when he gets to the bottom floor?

First of all, I need to see the real book.  My eARC was weirdly formatted.  A lot of Ts and Fs and some other letters were left out of random words. It made it a bit difficult to read, and I think some of the visual effects were lost.

The book speaks to the need for vengeance in a realistic way. It was a powerful message that may be important for young people today. I think the format may turn some kids off, unfortunately, because Long Way Down is really easy to understand. Teens who like edgy contemporary books or those written in verse will want to experience Long Way Down.

Published by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy, October 24, 2017
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
320 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Book Review: Last Chance, by Gregg Hurwitz

Last Chance, by Gregg Hurwitz book cover and review
For teens who can't get enough of books with non-stop action, Last Chance will be sure to please.

 Last Chance is the sequel to The Rains, so you may want to read that review first.  There may be spoilers ahead...

We pick up where we left off in The Rains. Chance, Patrick, and Alex are trying to survive while trying to save the world.  It is one ordeal for them after another.

I feel pretty much the same about Last Chance as I did The Rains. Here's what I said: For the young adult intended audience, The Rains is a non-stop thriller.  For a somewhat jaded adult reader like myself, it was just kind of "more of the same."

Last Chance is just one near-death, thrilling escape after another.  It does keep you turning pages, but for me, there was a bit too much of that and not enough plot movement.  The teens just get way too many lucky breaks. When the plot does move, it's a good one with more unexpected twists and turns than The Rains, which is why I actually liked Last Chance better.

I like the premise, the apocalyptic tension, and Horowitz gives pretty good explanations, reasons, and solutions for the situation. I thought the "bullying" aspects were also overdone.  How many times did Ben and his gang attack one of the main characters?  (Too many...)

Hurwitz isn't afraid to kill off characters -- in horribly gruesome ways. So be warned. No one is safe.

There is a not-entirely-happy but hopeful resolution. This series (a duology!) is a good one for reluctant readers who love action and can handle the gore.  They should start with The Rains first.

Published by Tor Teen, October 17, 2017
ARC obtained from the publisher
384 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Monday, October 9, 2017

Book Review: Dare Mighty Things by Heather Kaczynski @HKaczynski

Dare Mighty Things by Heather Kaczynski book cover and review
Dare Mighty Things kept me on the edge of my seat towards the end, but it ended too soon!  I'm ready for the sequel...

In the future, it's possible to design your offspring to be smart, among other things.  Cassie is one of these kids.  Her parents are scientists, and she's managed to get an internship at NASA. She's always dreamed of going into space.  Well, she gets selected for a secret mission and must compete with other teens to win.  But what's the mission?  No one will say.

Cassie is determined and relentless.  She will give up family and friends (well, she doesn't have any of those) to reach her goals.  The other teens she meets while going through this training do become her friends though, even if they are her competition.

Cassie is the most fleshed out character.  We get to know the side characters as Cassie does, from arm's length. As readers, since Cassie is our main character, you can predict she will eventually win out.  But the journey to success is fraught with challenges and danger and is also enlightening.

I recently read Nyxia, and the comparisons are inevitable. Dare Mighty Things has been compared to The 5th Wave and The Selection.  Nyxia has been compared to Ender's Game. I think Dare Mighty Things is more like Ender's Game than either of the two other books.  Both Nyxia and Dare Mighty Thing were exciting and held my interest.  I'll be happy to recommend them both.

Dare Mighty Things ends with a huge twist and a (hated) cliffhanger.  I'm looking forward to Cassie's further adventures.  I think my space travel fans will enjoy this one.

Published by HarperTeen, October 10, 2017
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
384 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Audio Book Review: Above the Waterfall, by Ron Rash

Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash book cover and review
I know Above the Waterfall is literary fiction, but maybe it's just a bit too literary for me. I've read Serena and The Cove also by Rash and liked them. But Above the Waterfall was all lyrical writing with a very simple, uneventful plot.

Les is about to retire from his position as sheriff of a small town in Appalachia. He's a wise man, who may not be entirely on the up-and-up, but his heart is in the right place. Becky is a park ranger, who is Les's friend.  She's suffered a traumatic event when she was a child that has stayed with her.

Les's part of the book is about dealing with meth dealers, preparing for retirement, and reflecting on past mistakes. Becky's part is about her writing poetry about the natural elements she so enjoys and looking back on her haunting past.

An elderly man who is a good friend of Becky's gets accused of poisoning the trout at a local resort.  He's on a security video that makes him look guilty.  But Becky is sure he didn't do it. So Les slowly and carefully figures out what happened.

The depiction of Appalachia is interesting, but coincidentally, I've recently read Natchez Burning and  Gray Mountain and both of those were much better stories along with the vivid southern setting.

I'm not sure what Becky's ramblings (poetic and beautiful, but still) have to do with anything.  Her backstory never comes full circle to relate to anything else in the book.

The narrators, Richard Ferrone and Tavia Gilbert, do a good job.  The male narrator was, actually, excellent.  Since the female part included so much poetry, I think I would have understood it better if I were reading the text.  But, I didn't enjoy that part anyway, so it didn't matter.  No fault of the narrator, though.

I feel like Rash just wrote this to show off his mastery of the English language.  At least it is short. These characters are nothing like Serena or Laurel from The Cove. Those books were also a bit meandering and slow moving, but the plot always kept my interest.  Above the Waterfall -- not so much. 

Published by Ecco, 2015,  HarperAudio
Audiobook obtained from the library
272 pages

Rating: 3/5

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Monday, October 2, 2017

Book Review: The Hanging Girl, by Eileen Cook

The Hanging Girl by Eileen Cook, book cover and review
The Hanging Girl keeps you on your toes as surprising twists occur several times throughout the story.

I'm struggling with what to tell you about the plot. Even the blurb tells a little bit too much, I think.  Skye has promised her best friend, Drew, that she will move to New York with her after they graduate.  But Skye doesn't have the money. And she's afraid to tell Drew.  So she needs money.

She's a pretend psychic.  She reads tarot cards for the kids at school and they believe her because she seems to know all about them.  Skye has ways of finding things out, and she's also very observant.

When a popular girl turns up missing, it's Skye's psychic visions that are helping the police.  But how does Skye know this stuff?

The Hanging Girl is a short, quick read that keeps the action moving.  It would be great for reluctant and/or low-level readers.  The writing is very simple.  Subject/verb simply constructed sentences.  It is almost rhymic at times, with many short choppy sentences in a row.  While that kind of annoyed me, I think it would be good for younger teens or those with reading difficulties.

Not that this matters, but I'm not sure where the title came from.  There isn't a "Hanging Girl" in the book. While a bit far-fetched at times, The Hanging Girl is exciting and twisted.  Just what some teens are looking for.

Published by HMH BFYR, October 3, 2017
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
320 pages

Rating: 3/5

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Book Review: Persuasion, by Jane Austen

Persuasion by Jane Austen book cover and review
It's probably not accurate to call this a book review because when it comes to classics, I don't really consider my comments to be much of a review.  But, Persuasion was an interesting and enjoyable read.

Persuasion is a love story that takes place in the early1800s about a woman, Anne, who seven years ago broke off an engagement.  She now meets up with her former betrothed, and she still loves him. But he seems to be pursuing another. I was invested enough in the story that I found myself rooting for this couple.

The language is definitely different, and at times difficult to deduce the true meaning.  You do have to read slower, but for the most part, I didn't find it too cumbersome.  I enjoyed learning more about the customs of the time, especially when it comes to courtship and who you are allowed to marry.

I also had some difficulty remembering who the characters were.  Too many Captains and Elliots!

Persuasion isn't a long book (thankfully) and Serial Reader divided it into 33 parts, so it took me 32 days to read (I read the last two parts in one day.) As far as classics go, Persuasion was pretty good.

Published by John Murray in 1818
Copy obtained from Serial Reader
224 pages

Rating: 3/5

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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Audio Book Review: The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango

The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango book cover and review
The Truth and Other Lies is such a twisted book.  The story is interesting, but the way it is told makes it even better. Arango has a way with words!

Henry Haydon is a happily married successful author.  Or is he? I really don't what to say too much about The Truth and Other Lies, because you need to experience each revelation as it is presented in the text. Let's just say Henry is a psychopath.

Henry gets himself in a bind when his mistress gets pregnant.  The solution he comes up with is fitting for the psycho that he is, however, he makes a huge mistake and now finds himself scrambling to save himself.  In order to accomplish this, he gets deeper and deeper into trouble.  Can he manage to get himself out?

It's not a mystery or a detective story.  We watch Henry do these things and know he's the culprit.  It's a matter of whether he's going to get caught and the lengths to which he will go to avoid capture. Arango's story is woven between the past and the present, has several colorful side characters, some surprising twists, and as morbid as it is, you will find yourself chuckling.

Corey Brill is the reader and he is excellent.  I don't really remember anything about his voice, and that just means he did a good job. It's hard to describe why I loved The Truth and Other Lies so much, but I did.

Published by Atria, 2015, Simon & Schuster Audio
Audiobook obtained from the library
256 pages

Rating: 5/5

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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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