Thursday, May 28, 2015

New "Ghost Squad" Novel Full of Surprises

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for The Shadow Cabinet, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from previous Shades of London novels.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

When Stephen Dene dies, Rory Deveaux doesn't think.  She just acts.  As a human terminus, the American teen has the power—well, she's pretty sure she has the power—to save a dying person.  Not to bring him back to life, but to turn him into a ghost.  It's a desperate action, the only way Rory can keep the man she loves in her life.  The question is:  did it work?  If Stephen is one of the many spirits who wander the streets of London, why can't she find him?  And, what if her plan failed?  How will Rory live with her grief and guilt if Stephen is really, truly gone?

While keeping an eye out for Stephen, Rory and the other supernatural detectives have another problem.  Charlotte, Rory's boarding school classmate, is missing.  She was last seen in the company of Jane Quaint, her therapist.  As Rory has come to realize, Quaint is more than just a psychiatrist.  Also a possessor of "the sight," she recruits teens who are likewise gifted into what Rory suspects is a cult.  The group may, in fact, be responsible for a number of deaths.  Whatever power Jane may possess, though, pales in comparison to that of a dangerous pair of ghosts recently arrived in London.  It's up to Rory and her team to stop them all from hurting anyone else.  Can the "ghost squad" stop Jane and her cohorts before it's too late?  Or will they, like Stephen, go missing in action?

I've loved Maureen Johnson's Shades of London series since it began (with The Name of the Star).  It's not the most original YA supernatural series out there, but it's one of the only ones that combines all of my favorite things—intriguing characters, an atmospheric setting, vivid prose, and pulse-pounding action—in one elongated story line.  Each of the books brings something new to the table, which keeps me anxious for sequels.  Since The Madness Underneath ended in such a torturous cliffhanger, it felt like I waited a decade for The Shadow Cabinet to come out.  This third book in the series begins where the last one left off, answering the question of Stephen's fate, while adding in lots of new thrills.  Like its predecessors, The Shadow Cabinet is a perfect blend of creepy and funny.  It's compelling, thrilling, and satisfying.  My only complaint is that I now have to wait another decade for the fourth and final book in the series.  Waaahhh!

(Readalikes:  The Name of the Star and The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), violence, scary images, depictions of illegal drug use, and sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of The Shadow Cabinet from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.  

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Keep It Real ... You Might Learn Something

(Image from author's blog)

My kids have been out of school for a couple days now and, let me tell you, parenting just got a lot more real around here!  For the past ten months, all four of my children have been spending most of their day at school.  Now that summer break is here?  They're home.  All day.  With assorted friends in tow.  My quiet halcyon days are no more—now they're filled with the sounds of video games, cartoons and whines of "I'm bored" and "Mooommmm, he/she's teasing me!"  Every summer I wonder if I'm going to survive the next couple months, let alone the remainder of my parenting career (which, as you know, is pretty much a life-long thing). 

Enter Julie K. Nelson, a blogger, college professor, and (most importantly) the mother of five children.  Her new book, Keep it Real and Grab a Plunger, offers some tried-and-true, down-to-Earth advice about how to maintain your sanity while working "the toughest job you'll ever love."  Parenting isn't for wimps, after all.  Nelson's 25 Tips for Surviving Parenthood are a little random—they run the gamut from how to soothe your child's fears to inspiring kids through learning their family history to controlling Internet use at home to the importance of having a pet.  Each section offers expert advice pulled from Nelson's own experience, quotes from prominent members of society, and suggestions from other moms who have spent some time in the parenting trenches. 

Keep It Real and Grab a Plunger doesn't say anything new or revolutionary.  You've heard it all before.  But, Nelson says her piece in an upbeat, encouraging manner that makes her book very readable.  Truthfully, I wasn't expecting any big a-ha moments while reading it, so the chapter on yelling (Keep It Real ... and Take a Time-Out) surprised me with its aptness.  It offered some great tactics that I hadn't necessarily considered (Let your kids record your tirades with a cell phone?  That would be sobering.)  As parents, we need all the help we can get (even if we've been on the job so long we think we know everything), and Keep It Real and Grab a Plunger offers that.  Maybe you won't learn anything new from it, but maybe you'll find a nugget or two of useful information.  I did.  So, while this book won't revolutionize the parenting world, it's definitely worth a read.  


(Readalikes:  Other parenting books, although no specific title comes to mind)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished e-copy of Keep It Real and Grab a Plunger from its generous author, Julie K. Nelson.  Thank you!

A Handful of Stars Another Heartwarming Winner From Lord

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Ever since her longtime best friend became obsessed with boys (specifically, the "Amazing" Brandon), 12-year-old Lily's felt like the only pea left in their pod.  Hanging out with Hannah isn't the same anymore.  Lily's tired of hearing about Brandon and Hannah, apparently, is just tired of Lily.  Without Hannah, Lily's got only one real friend, her blind black Lab, Lucky.  Funny enough, it's him who leads her to the surprising friendship that will transform not just her summer, but also her whole outlook on life in small-town Maine.

When Lucky makes a crazy dash across the blueberry barrens, his vision too blurry to see the big farm truck barreling toward him, it's Salma Santiago who saves him.  Salma's a Hispanic migrant worker, who's spending the summer working alongside her parents picking blueberries.  Lily's seen kids from migrant families before, but she's never spoken to one.  Local kids and the children of seasonal workers don't really mix.  Nevertheless, Lily's immediately drawn to Salma.  Outgoing and kind, Salma's just the kind of pal Lily would like to have.  As the girls grow closer, though, their friendship creates a stir in town.  Especially when Salma decides to enter a local beauty pageant, the same one Hannah's hoping to win.  

As the crowning of the Downeast Blueberry Queen draws closer, Lily will learn some hard lessons about prejudice, belonging, and standing up for what's right, even when it means losing everything. 

No one writes heartwarming middle grade novels quite like Cynthia Lord.  I've loved all of her books because of their vivid settings and authentic characters, as well as their focus on family, friendship, and doing the right thing even when (especially when) it's difficult.  A Handful of Stars, Lord's newest, is just as touching as her other books.  Lily is a sympathetic character whose big, but broken heart makes her very real.  Readers can easily relate to her concern for her aging dog, her worries about her friends, and her grief over her mother.  As Lily helps Salma break barriers, she also becomes a brave, admirable heroine.  While A Handful of Stars touches on some heavy themes, it's a hopeful book, one that's affecting without being melodramatic or sentimental.  Not surprisingly, I loved it.   

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't really think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-galley of A Handful of Stars from the generous folks at Scholastic via those at Edelweiss.  Thank you!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Teens Trapped in a Human Zoo Makes for Stomach-Turning, But Engrossing YA Thriller

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Cora Mason is supposed to be on the slopes skiing with her family.  In fact, the last thing the 16-year-old remembers is composing song lyrics in the passenger seat while her brother drove to the ski resort.  But what she sees now isn't snow.  She's alone in a vast sea of sand.  Cora's a senator's daughter—maybe this is a kidnapping?  Except her surroundings don't even seem real.  There's something off about them, something surreal and dream-like to the whole situation.  The more Cora explores the land around her, the more confused she becomes.  A patchwork landscape like this can't exist.  Farms don't sit next to jungles, nor tundras next to deserts.  Where in the world has she landed?  And why is she here?

Soon, Cora discovers other teenagers, all wandering the strange terrain in various states of astonishment and fear.  As they learn to regard each other with a wary trust, they also discover the chilling truth about their new living quarters:  the odd habitat has been designed especially for them, the newest exhibits in a human zoo run by a highly intelligent alien race.  To remain in the safety of the zoo, all they have to do is obey—they must eat, sleep, exercise, and procreate.  If they do not comply, they will be auctioned off to private collectors who use captured humans for their own murky purposes.

While some of her comrades agree, preferring known horrors to the unknown, Cora refuses to be controlled so easily.  Her new-found friendship with one of the alien guards may be the key to escape.  But, as the human captives turn their backs on Cora and her otherworldly captors grow more suspicious of her intentions, life in the zoo is becoming increasingly dangerous.  Can Cora find her way home?  Or will she be forced to live like a caged animal, kept alive only as long as she does what she's told?  

Megan Shepherd, author of The Madman's Daughter trilogy, must have a stomach of steel.  In her debut series, she addressed the bloody art of vivisection in all its fascinating goriness.  Her new YA novel, The Cage (available May 26, 2015), is no less horrifying with its vivid and disturbing depictions of humans being kept as exhibits and pets.  As disconcerting as the idea is, though, I have to admit it makes for an intriguing premise, one that pretty much guarantees an intense, nail-biter of a story, which The Cage certainly is.  Pulse-pounding action isn't the only thing the novel has going for it—mix in interesting, complex characters; thought-provoking philosophical questions (What is real?  What does it mean to truly be free?); and a taut, survivalist adventure tale; and you've got yourself an edge-of-your-seat, can't-put-it-down thriller.  My only real complaint is I wish the kids hadn't met the Kindred quite so soon.  A more anonymous antagonist (a lá LOST or The Maze Runner) would have made the story even more suspenseful.  Despite that small annoyance, I couldn't look away from this one.  It kept me totally engrossed and completely mesmerized.  I'm already dying to read the next book in the series.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Maze Runner trilogy [The Maze Runner; The Scorch Trials; The Death Cure] by James Dashner and a little of the t.v. show LOST)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), violence, and some sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Cage from the generous folks at HarperCollins via those at Edelweiss.  Thank you!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

TTT: Heading Back to School ... Wait, What?


A Top Ten Tuesday post is probably the last thing I should be publishing today, considering how behind I am on reviewing books.  But, yeah.  I just couldn't resist today's topic since it's a freebie.  Yay!

My friend messaged me a bookish question on Facebook yesterday and I thought a Top Ten list would be the perfect way to answer her query.  She will be starting her first year of teaching this Fall.  As she's trying to collect books for her classroom library, she asked which titles I would recommend stocking for her upcoming 6th graders.  This is a little tricky as kids this age want to read more mature books, but (in my opinion, anyway) they're not necessarily ready for hard-core YA novels yet.  In fact, there's been a bit of a brouhaha at my kids' elementary school about the recent availability of teen books in the library.  So, in thinking of volumes for a 6th grade classroom, I tried to come up with stories that are exciting/complex enough to hold an older reader's attention, while still being appropriate, especially for a school library.  Be sure to let me know whether you agree or disagree with my choices and what additional books you would suggest to my friend.  I'm sure she'd appreciate as much feedback as possible.

Before we get to that, though, why don't you join in the Top Ten Tuesday fun?  It's super easy.  Just go on over to The Broke and the Bookish, read the easy-peasy instructions, and jump on the bandwagon.  It's a good time, I promise.

Now, on to my list.  First of all, I would make sure I stocked lots of great classic lit, like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, The Diary of Anne Frank, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, the Anne of Green Gables books by L.M. Montgomery, etc.  

Assuming I already had those on hand, these are the Top Ten Books/Series I Would Buy for a Sixth Grade Classroom Library:


1.  Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling—Most kids discover the wonders of Harry Potter long before sixth grade.  If they haven't, they need to.  This is also a series that kids (and adults!) love to re-read, so the more copies of the books a school has, the better.


2.  The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins—Although these books are pretty violent and grim, it's a YA series that definitely appeals to middle grade readers.  While it doesn't provide the most uplifting reading in the world, the series features books with tight prose, lots of action, and thought-provoking moral questions.


3.  The Percy Jackson series (and spin-offs) by Rick Riordan—These books are popular with readers of all ages.  Sixth graders love them as much as fourth graders do.  Also, watch for Riordan's new series based on Norse mythology—the first book will be coming out in October, I believe.


4.  The Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer—Although this is a YA series, it's squeaky clean.  It's also got memorable characters, vivid writing, plenty of action/adventure, and a sci fi twist that makes it stand out from the crowd.  Sure, the books are "re-booted" fairy tales, but there's plenty for both girls and boys to love about this series.


5.  The Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz—When my son was in 5th and 6th grade, these books were his absolute favorite.  Alex Rider is sort of a young James Bond.  I haven't read any of the novels, but they're very popular at my kids' elementary school and come highly recommended by my son.


6.  The Maze Runner series by James Dashner—Like #5, these books will appeal to reluctant readers, especially those of the male variety.  With dystopian elements, a mystery, and lots of action/adventure, this series is another really popular one.


7.  The Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter—I don't know how much literary merit these books have, but who cares?  They're clever, upbeat, and tons of fun.  My 13-year-old daughter and I both adore this series.

8.  The Unwind series and, really, anything by Neal Shusterman—If you read this blog on any kind of a regular basis, you already now that I'm a huge Shusterman fangirl.  His books are complex, imaginative, and thought-provoking.  I love the Unwind series best of all, but I also really recommend his Skinjacker series.

9.  Anything by Margaret Peterson Haddix—Haddix is another author who will appeal to reluctant readers.  Most of her novels are short, quick reads that still manage to be suspenseful, exciting, and thought-provoking.  Every 6th grade library needs a little Haddix in it.


10.  The Al Capone books by Gennifer Choldenko—I adore this trilogy about families living on Alcatraz Island during the time it housed a working prison (and a very famous inmate).  It's a fascinating historical series that is unique, interesting and full of heart.  I love it.

I could seriously go on and on about this subject!  So, what do you think of my choices?  Which books/series would you buy/not buy for a 6th grade classroom?  I'd love to hear your answers and I know my friend would, too.

Happy TTT!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

"I Know You Again Because You Read to Me"


Who are the people in your life that have most influenced your love of the written word?  Are they family members?  Friends?  Teachers?  Librarians?  For me, three people come immediately to mind: my mom, my dad, and my paternal grandmother.  All of them love books.  A recent trip back to the Motherland (the beautiful Columbia River Gorge) made me reflect on my grandma, especially, and how our shared love of reading and writing has influenced and strengthened our relationship.  I don't often get personal on this blog, but I hope you won't mind if I share a little something about what I learned from her this last weekend.  

Grandma, who's been a widow for over two decades, once told me that she would never be bored or lonely as long as she had something good to read.  One of the hardest parts of aging, for her, has been the loss of her eyesight.  For a few years now, she's been too weak to hold a book, let alone read one.  Last week, on her birthday, someone asked her to describe in one word what it was like to be 100 years old.  She said, "Difficult.  I can no longer read.  I can no longer write.  I'm not the person I used to be."  I think this says a whole lot about the importance of reading and writing, not just in her life, but in all of ours.

My grandma and I used to bond all the time over our shared love of books and writing.  Sadly, she can no longer remember those conversations.  She can't remember me.  During my three day visit, I had to remind her every 15 minutes or so of what my name was, who my parents were, and that yes, we were in fact related.  These exchanges were sad and sometimes bizarre, but also hysterical.

On Mother's Day, my younger brother and I had the privilege of grandma-sitting while my parents, her primary caregivers, went out to dinner with my sister and brother-in-law.  Not surprisingly, my bookworm of a grandma enjoys it when people read aloud to her.  When I assured her it would be my pleasure to spend the evening performing that task, she settled in her bed to listen to the mystery novel my parents were in the middle of reading to her.  For two hours straight, I read.  I read until the words on Dad's Kindle blurred and my already sore throat felt raw and achy.  After about an hour, Grandma fell asleep, her mouth wide open as she snored.  When I paused, thinking I should sneak away and let her rest, she jolted upright and exclaimed, "This is such a good book!"  I kept reading.

In her old age, my grandmother has grown very paranoid about being left alone.  She kept telling me that she thought she would be really scared with "the kids" (meaning my parents) gone, but that, since I was reading to her, she didn't feel frightened.  A little later, I was explaining to her how much I loved to read and write.  She said, "We have so much in common!  I'm glad to meet you."  I chuckled and reminded her that we've known each other for almost forty years.  "If you say so, honey," she replied, "but now I know you again because you read to me."

The two hours I spent reading to my grandmother are precious to me.  I cherish the fact that we were able to get reacquainted (even if I had to re-introduce myself to her a few more times the next morning) because we shared that experience.  It wasn't the book that was so good, but the company.

Grandma's words made me think about the power of reading together, be it a parent to a child (I can't count the number of times I've shared classics like Chicka Chicka Boom Boom or Green Eggs and Ham with my kiddos), an older sibling to a younger sibling (as a teenager, my husband spent many nights reading Jurassic Park to his wide-eyed little brother), a wife to a husband (my mom used to read Jack Weyland books aloud to my dad while he drove on family road trips), or a granddaughter to a cherished grandmother.  That time spent together is special, valuable, the stuff of which fond memories are made.  What could be better than stolen moments like these when we're wrapped in the warmth of the love we share and bound together by the kind of magical spell only a story well-told can cast?  If you don't read to your children, do.  Start today.  Right now.  And if your grandmother needs a little help to feast on the written word she loves so well, help her out.  Maybe she can't remember your name, but she'll know you again because you read to her.  What could be more priceless than that?  In the immortal words of Strickland Gillilan:

You may have tangible wealth untold; 
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you could never be—
I had a mother [father/sibling/spouse/granddaughter] who read to me.  
  

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Black Returns to Faerie Tale Roots with The Darkest Part of the Forest

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Fairfold may look like an ordinary town, but it has something other villages don't—the Folk.  Here, faeries and other fantastical creatures co-exist with humans, sometimes peacefully, other times not.  Locals know to be wary of the Folk, whose "generosity ... was as great as their cruelty" (19).  Tourists, however, can't stay away from the living, breathing fairy tale that is Fairfold.  No amount of warning can convince them to stay away or to, at least, watch their backs.  For, as everyone in town knows, the Folk can be tricksy.  Very, very tricksy.  After all, "that was why Fairfold was special, because it was so close to magic.  Dangerous magic, yes, but magic all the same" (19). 

Hazel Evans and her older brother, Ben, are especially enamored with the mysterious boy in the woods.  For as long as anyone can remember, he's slept inside a glass coffin in the woods.  With horns on his head and sharp, pointy ears, the boy is mesmerizing in his otherworldly beauty.  For years, Hazel and Ben have visited him, made up stories about his origin, and pretended to be knights, protecting him with their valor and might.  Now 16, Hazel's ready to put aside the silly, childish playacting.  The boy in the woods will likely sleep on for centuries.

Except he doesn't.  He awakens, unleashing an ancient evil on unsuspecting Fairfold.  Drawn into the dangerous conflict between the Alderking's son and the monster who hunts him, Hazel must finally become the knight she's been pretending to be for years.  But, can she understand the clues she's being given?  Can she, a mere human, stop a murderous, bloodthirsty beast?  And how does she know she can trust the horned boy, never mind that she's been in love with him since she was a child?  As Hazel puzzles out the mystery playing out in her town, she must be as brave and daring as any knight—for her life and those of everyone she loves hang in the balance.

Well-known for penning dark, fantastical tales, Holly Black returns to her faerie roots with her newest YA novel, The Darkest Part of the Forest.  The novel is not a Sleeping Beauty retelling, not really, it's more of a twisted fairy tale.  By flipping gender roles around, Black keeps the story fresh.  With intriguing characters, an exciting plot, and moody, atmospheric prose, she makes it memorable.  I loved some aspects of this original novel, others not so much.  Overall, though, The Darkest Part of the Forest is both compelling and enjoyable.  Creepy, but what else would you expect from the likes of Holly Black?

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't really think of anything.  You?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language (a few F-bombs, plus milder invectives), violence/gore, sexual innuendo, and depictions of underage drinking/illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of The Darkest Part of the Forest from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Imaginative Hugo & Rose A Haunting Novel About Fantasy vs. Reality

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Ever since the day Rose knocked herself out in a childhood bicycling accident, she's dreamed of a magical island.  Each night when she falls asleep, she's transported to this wonderland, where exciting adventures wait behind every palm tree.  She's never alone in these dreams.  Hugo, a brave, handsome hero, is always by her side.  Over years of countless nocturnal exploits, Rose has watched him grow from an exuberant child into a fearless, capable adult.  He's her best friend, literally the man of her dreams.  If only he actually existed outside of her vivid, slumbering imagination.  

In reality, Rose spends her days tending to her nice suburban home, her three small children, and her surgeon husband.  With Josh constantly at the hospital, the bulk of the work falls to her.  Overwhelmed and bored with the mundane life she leads in her waking hours, Rose longs to feel as alive as she does in her dreams.  To be the beautiful, bold woman she is when she's with Hugo.  

As she grows increasingly discontent, Rose makes an incredible discovery—Hugo is real.  The man she sees at a local fast food restaurant may not look exactly the way he does in Rose's dreams, but it is him.  She's sure of it.  When her curiosity about this real-life Hugo turns into an all-consuming obsession, Rose risks everything she holds dear to connect with a man she's met only in her dreams.  Is he really Hugo?  Does he share her mysterious island dreams?  With him in her life, can she finally rise above her humdrum existence to embrace her real self, the one she inhabits in her island dreamworld?

Hugo & Rose, a debut novel by screenwriter Bridget Foley, tells an intriguing story about one woman's quest for fulfillment—not just in her dreams, but in her normal, everyday life.  It's about the lengths to which one might go to make fantasy match reality and the disparities that often exist between the two.  Ultimately, Hugo & Rose is about what is truly real, truly important, truly worth fighting for.  The book's unique premise, as well as its relatable characters, make it both haunting and memorable.  This one might not be blow-you-away amazing, but it's definitely the kind of novel that you'll keep thinking about long after you finish it.  

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't really think of anything.  You?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, sexual content and violence

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Hugo & Rose from the generous folks at St. Martin's Press.  Thank you!

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Lengthy Fragments Just Okay

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Fragments, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, Partials.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

After discovering that she's an unlinked Partial created by the scientists at ParaGen, Kira Walker struggles to accept the truth of her identity.  It doesn't matter that she has found the cure for RM—the virus that has been killing every newborn human for years—if her friends find out she shares DNA with the enemy robots who are trying to destroy humanity, they'll turn their backs on Kira.  Even Kira doesn't know what to think.  All she knows is that she needs answers.  And she's not finding them in Manhattan.  No one knows what lies beyond the human settlement in New York—anything could be lurking in the untamed, post-apocalyptic western wilderness.  Or worse, there could be nothing out there.  No survivors, no information, no life, no answers.  But Kira has to try.  

In the old world, ParaGen was headquartered in Denver, Colorado.  If there's any information to be had, that's where it will be stored.  If the building is still standing, if the computers can be made to work, if Denver still exists, if ... It's a long shot, but there's where Kira plans to go.  Samm, the Partial boy who confuses Kira's every emotion, insists on going with her.  As does Heron, a combative Partial spy model.  The trio must also drag along Afa Demoux, ParaGen's once-brilliant IT manager.  Now a rambling drifter, he's a necessary, albeit unbalanced companion.

As the group moves further into the ruins of a forgotten world, they encounter every kind of challenge imaginable (as well as some they never could have conjured up).  With the fate of their world hanging in the balance, they must mount every obstacle, fight every battle, and above all, survive.  Before time runs out for them all.

Although I enjoy Dan Wells' unsettling adult novels, I haven't been particularly wowed by his YA offerings.  Partials kept me reading, but not rushing to find out what was going to happen.  I had a similar experience with its sequel, Fragments.  While the novel has flashes of tense, exciting action, not just between the principal characters and their environment, but between the story people themselves, the plot drags.  Quite a lot.  There are a few surprises, sure—I just felt that a good 100 pages could have been chopped from the book without losing anything important.  Character development would have been a good way to use those extra words.  Even after two (long) books, Wells' cast still feels flat to me.  Overall, then, Fragments was just an okay read for me.  If you enjoyed Partials, you'll probably like this one just fine.  If Partials didn't do it for you, this one likely won't either.  A lot of readers adore this series; for me, it's just been so-so.

(Readalikes:  Partials and Ruins by Dan Wells)

Grade:



If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), violence, and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Fragments from the generous folks at HarperCollins.  Thank you!

Friday, May 01, 2015

Compelling Mystery Would Have Benefited From Subtlety, Tighter Structure

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Ridgedale, an idyllic New Jersey college town, has its share of minor crimes.  Break-ins, domestic squabbles, robberies, etc. aren't uncommon, but murder?  In the last two decades, there have been only two.  When the body of a dead baby is found in a wooded area on university property, it appears as though that stat may be changing.  Cause of death will take some time to determine, but in the meantime, everyone has a theory.  

As a reporter for the local newspaper, Molly Sanderson covers the fun, artsy side of Ridgedale.  Focusing on lively arts/lifestyle/human interest stories has helped lift her out of the oppressive grief she's felt ever since the loss of her own child.  It's only a fluke that she's assigned the story of the newborn's death, but Molly's determined to find out what happened to the infant.  Even if it kills her.

The more clues Molly uncovers, the more sinister the story becomes.  Ridgedale may look like a peaceful little hamlet where nothing bad ever happens, but she's beginning to see the truth—the townspeople are keeping some pretty dark secrets.  Unlocking them will put everything Molly holds dear at risk.  It may even cost her her sanity or, worse, her life.

Where They Found Her, Kimberly McCreight's sophomore novel (Reconstructing Amelia was her debut), tells a chilling, suspenseful story about a grieving mother's desperate search for redemption.  The sorrow and guilt that plague Molly make her a sympathetic character, one with whom it's easy to identify.  As for the supporting cast, they all seem pretty stereotypical and bland.  Plotwise, Where They Found Her has a clumsy, choppy structure.  While some of its twists are well-crafted, others seem to come totally out of left field.  The novel could definitely benefit from tighter plot structure and more subtlety.  Although it's depressing, Where They Found Her is a compelling novel.  It kept me turning pages, but in the end, I just didn't love it.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, sexual content, and depictions of underage drinking and illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Where They Found Her from the generous folks at HarperCollins via those at NetGalley.  Thank you!   
Blog Widget by LinkWithin