Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Twisty Psychological Thriller Engrossing, But Not Satisfying

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High school senior Hattie Hoffman appears to have it all.  She's beautiful, popular, smart, and a talented actress.  Maybe too talented.  Hattie is hiding a lot more under her innocent, girl-next-door facade than anyone would ever guess.  When the 18-year-old is found murdered in an abandoned barn, one question hovers the whole sad affair:  Who was Hattie Hoffman?  The answers are plentiful.  What's the truth?  

County sheriff Del Goodman is tasked with finding Hattie's killer.  A close friend of the Hoffmans, he's baffled by what he's finding out about their daughter.  Did anyone really know Hattie?  He's beginning to think not.  There's only one thing he knows for sure:  He will find her killer.  No matter what it takes.

Peter Lund, Hattie's English teacher, is hiding an incriminating secret—from his wife, from his colleagues, from the police.  What will happen when the truth comes out?  Will he find himself accused of killing his favorite student?  Did he?

Told from three perspectives—the victim, her English teacher, and the policeman investigating them both—Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia is a compelling psychological thriller.  The story twists and turns all over the place, making for a tense, engrossing read.  Hattie and Peter are complex characters, neither of whom is very likable.  The former is a manipulative brat (who seems WAY older than 18) while the latter is a selfish wimp.  Despite these less-than-desirable qualities, I did want to know what happened to them.  The ending of this one frustrated me, so in the end, I'm not sure quite what I thought of Everything You Want Me to Be.  It's an intriguing page turner for sure, but I can't say I really liked it.  Overall, it didn't leave me feeling very satisfied.  

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a little of The Secret Place by Tana French)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, blood/gore, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Everything You Want Me to Be from the generous folks at Atria Books (a division of Simon & Schuster) via those at NetGalley.  Thank you!

It's A Book! It's A Film! It's Fantastic All Around!

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I think most readers would agree that:

(1) It's better to read the book before seeing a movie based on said book.
(2) With a few exceptions, the book is always better than its movie. 

Am I right?  Thought so.  

Well, I adhere to Rule #1 the vast majority of the time since I prefer to "see" a book in my head before I view it on the Big Screen.  Hollywood and I rarely see eye-to-eye, so this technique has served me well.  I break this habit only on very rare occasions.  A movie date with my California sister and our daughters over Thanksgiving weekend seemed like a legit reason, so I went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them before reading the original screenplay by J.K. Rowling.  The shock!  The horror!  Actually, since the film follows the published screenplay exactly, it wasn't that big of a deal.  And you know what?  I loved the movie.  Loved it. 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them features Newt Scamander, a British magizoologist, who arrives in New York City in 1926 to perform a special mission.  Obsessed with magical creatures, Newt carries a number of them in his suitcase.  When Jacob Kowalski, a Muggle baker, accidentally opens the case, he sets the animals free.  As Newt's precious creatures escape and wreak havoc on the city, he tries to convince the Magical Congress of the United States (MACUSA) that he can take care of the problem without any harm to either the creatures or American Muggles.  
MACUSA is already struggling to manage magical-Muggle relations.  It doesn't help that a dark force is causing trouble in the city.  MACUSA assumes it's the work of one of Newt's creatures; Newt refuses to believe it.  He thinks it's something much stronger, much more dangerous.  With the help of Tina Goldstein, a disgraced Auror; her sister Queenie, a skilled Legilimens; and Kowalski, Newt must find the culprit in order to pacify MACUSA and save New York City.  The job is a much more dangerous one than anyone could possibly have imagined ...

When I heard about J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter screenplays, I wasn't sure what to think.  All Potterheads long for more from the HP universe, but I've been hoping for novels.  It's only in this format that the real color, charm, and depth of Rowling's world-building can truly come alive, right?  Right.  Sort of.  The Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them screenplay definitely lacks the fullness that would no doubt be found in a novel version.  With short stage directions instead of meaty description, it's difficult to really visualize the setting, characters, and creatures that appear in the story (at least I assume this is true since I actually saw the film before reading the screenplay).  What this format does offer is a reading experience that is fast, exciting, and unique.  Readers— especially young, reluctant ones—who want to delve into the Harry Potter books but shy away from the weighty tomes might find this format more to their liking.  It also helps that they can enjoy this story without having read any of the Harry Potter books.  Personally, although I enjoyed reading Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I would have preferred it in novel form.  Still, this is a fun, magical tale that translates perfectly to the Big Screen.  I loved both the written screenplay and the film version.  

(Readalikes:  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone; Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix; Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; Harry Potter and the Cursed Child; Quidditch Through the Ages; and The Tales of Beedle the Bard)

Grade:


If this were a movie (and it is!), it would be rated:


for brief, mild language, violence, and scary images

(Note: The actual movie is rated PG-13)

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha. 

*Movie image from www.fandango.com

Quiet WWI Drama Engrossing (Enough)

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"... Our time was wartime ..." (235).

Longing for adventure, 23-year-old Pearl Gibson is thrilled to secure a position as a lady's maid to wealthy, glamorous Ottoline Campbell.  The Scottish estate where the aristocrat spends her summers is peaceful, but full of its own quiet dramas.  As Pearl becomes acquainted with the staff and grows closer to her employer, she begins to see the cracks in the Campbells' careful veneers.

With the threat of war creeping ever closer, life at the estate changes.  As the men leave for the front lines, the women are left to fend for themselves.  With fear and anxiety hanging over them, Pearl and Ottoline must figure out how to survive.  Pearl is closer to Ottoline than to anyone else, but she's harboring a secret that could shatter her employer's frail existence ...

It's difficult to describe the plot of The Echo of Twilight by Judith Kinghorn because it doesn't have one.  Not really.  Episodic and character-driven, the novel meanders about with little focus.  Which isn't to say that it's not engrossing.  It is, but there also isn't a point in the story where I couldn't have put the book down and walked away.  Kinghorn's prose is strong.  I found her characters lacking, though.  Besides Rodney and Mrs. Lister, none of them are very likable.  Pearl has no real personality, which makes her story a bit dull.  Overall, the novel's quiet, depressing, and not all that memorable.  In the end, it was just okay for me.  

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Echo of Twilight from the generous folks at Penguin Random House.  Thank you!

Monday, January 30, 2017

YA Jack the Ripper Novel Just Okay

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Audrey Rose hides a secret desire behind her high-born Victorian facade.  The 17-year-old is fascinated by science, specifically forensics, the science of crime and death.  As often as she can, Audrey Rose sneaks away from the home she shares with her paranoid father and protective older brother to her uncle's laboratory.  An unofficial apprentice, she watches and learns all she can from her Uncle Jonathon's study of recently-deceased bodies.  Disguised as a young man, she even attends his lectures on forensics at a local boy's school.  

When Jonathon starts receiving the corpses of women brutalized in similar ways, it becomes apparent that a serial killer is on the loose in London.  With the help of a handsome schoolmate, Audrey Rose is determined to find the killer.  To her shock, the clues lead her in the one direction she doesn't want to go ...

I find books about forensics, especially in the earliest days of the discipline, intriguing, so naturally I wanted to give Stalking Jack the Ripper, a debut novel by Kerri Maniscalco, a go.  What did I think?  Well, it tells a compelling story.  Familiar, yes.  Predictable, yes.  But I still found myself engrossed.  Even though I could tell where the plot was going, I wanted to know how it all wrapped up.  My biggest problem with the novel was with our heroine, Audrey Rose.  A wealthy Victorian young woman flitting off to a bloody lab and gory crime scenes frequently without raising many eyebrows seems extremely far-fetched.  The fact that she cares nothing about her reputation or family name means she risks little by dabbling in the "dark arts," making her story less tense and urgent than it could have been.  Audrey Rose also seems more interested in science than humanity, which makes her difficult to empathize with at times.  Considering all this, I didn't end up enjoying Stalking Jack the Ripper nearly as much as I thought I would.  It kept me reading, but in the end, it was just okay for me.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little of A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis)

Grade:




If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, and blood/gore

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Stalking Jack the Ripper from Changing Hands Bookstore with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Creepy Took An Odd, Odd Book

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When Daniel's dad loses his job in Connecticut, the family must make a dramatic change.  Moving to an old abandoned home in rural Woodville, West Virginia, results in profound culture shock, especially for Daniel and his 7-year-old sister, Erica.  The city kids are picked on by the locals, who spin terrifying yarns about an evil conjure woman who lives in the woods near the home in which the Andersons are living.  Fifty years ago, a young girl disappeared from their house—it's said she was "took" by Old Auntie, forced into slavery for the witch and her bloodthirsty razorback hog.

Daniel refuses to believe the tall tales, no matter how creepy they are.  Then, he realizes just how strangely Erica has been acting since they moved to West Virginia.  His parents are so wrapped up in their own drama that they haven't noticed anything, but Daniel has.  And it's freaking him out.  When Erica disappears one day, he knows she's been "took."  How can Daniel get his sister back?  And who is the ragged girl who appeared in her place?  Can a puny 7th grader really take on a powerful conjure woman—and win?  Daniel is about to find out ...

I'm not sure what to say about Took by Mary Downing Hahn except that it is an odd, odd book.  I seriously can't think of any other way to describe it.  It's creepy, yes, and compelling in a way.  It's also unrelentingly sad and scary—too much so for its intended audience, in my opinion.  I can't imagine handing Took to a child, even one who enjoys scary stories.  It's not all that well-written either, considering the characters are flat and the prose is much more tell than show.  I did finish reading the book as I wanted to find out what happened, but overall, I didn't find it a very satisfying read.  

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a little of Doll Bones by Holly Black)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and scary images

To the FTC, with love:  I borrowed a copy of Took from my children's elementary school library as part of my volunteer work with the school's reading program.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets a Wonderful, Worthy Follow-Up

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(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

After a momentous year at Hogwarts, Harry Potter can't wait to return.  His summer break has seemed endless—not only are the Dursleys as horrible as always, but also Harry's forbidden from using magic, and he hasn't received even one letter from Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, or anyone else.  Have his new friends forgotten about him already?  Things become even more ominous when a strange elf named Dobby appears in Harry's room warning him that if he returns to school, terrible things will happen.

Irritated but undeterred, Harry returns to Hogwarts—to his studies, to his friends, to his home.  Despite a few new faces in the crowd (including a self-absorbed new teacher and a budding reporter who won't leave Harry alone), it's business as usual at the magical school.  Well, as usual as it gets at Hogwarts!  The real trouble starts with whispers about a mysterious Chamber of Secrets and what's being kept inside it.  When several students end up petrified (frozen like statues), fear sweeps through the school.  Who is attacking the kids?  Some suspect Hagrid, who hides secrets about his own school days.  Harry refuses to believe his friend is capable of such a thing.  It's as ludicrous as the rumor that Harry himself is responsible.  Desperate to clear his name, Harry and his friends will have to find the culprit themselves.

Although the first Harry Potter novel will always be my favorite, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is just as exciting.  It introduces interesting new characters like loyal Dobby; self-absorbed Gilderoy Lockhart; and Fawkes, a remarkable phoenix; as well as a new Hogwarts mystery for Harry to solve.  Filled with all the magic of the series debut, it's a worthy follow-up that is fun, engrossing, and wholly enjoyable.  I loved the novel when I read it the first time and I adored it the second time around.  Revisiting Hogwarts is like going home—always a pleasurable experience!

Since I shared my favorite quotes from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, I'll leave you with some goodies from The Chamber of Secrets:

"'Because that's what Hermione does," said Ron.  'When in doubt, go to the library.'" (p. 255)

"'You will also find that help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.'"  -- Albus Dumbledore, to Harry Potter (p. 264)

"'It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.'"  -- Albus Dumbledore, to Harry Potter (p. 333)

(Readalikes:  Other books in the HP series, including Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix; Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; Harry Potter and the Cursed Child; Quidditch Through the Ages; Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; and The Tales of Beedle the Bard)

Grade:


If this were a movie (and it is!), it would be rated:


for scary images and violence

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when it first came out in the U.S. in 1999.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Wimpy Kidish Series Offers Another Funny, Heartfelt Story

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(Note: Although this review will not contain spoilers for My Life as a Joke, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier My Life as ... installments.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Now that Derek Fallon has reached the ripe old age of twelve, it's time for him to grow up.  He even makes a New Year's resolution to take life more seriously.  And he's really, really trying to achieve that goal.  So why is everything going so horrifyingly wrong?  Fate is clearly conspiring against him to make him look like a baby.  First, his volunteering efforts have him collecting dolls (of all things!); then, like a total wimp, he faints while dissecting a frog in science class; a fall from the climbing rope results in a fat lip and an embarrassing lisp; and then the rocking party he plans ... well, it's enough to make an almost-adult go running straight to his mommy.  Can Derek survive all the humiliation the universe is throwing in his face?  If his life is one big joke, how will he ever learn to take it seriously?

With the help of his friends, his pet monkey, and support from an unlikely source, Derek just might make it through (relatively) unscathed.  In fact, he'll learn some very valuable lessons about honesty, priorities, friendship, and being true to himself.  

I haven't read every book in Janet Tashjian's heartfelt series starring Derek Fallon, but I've thoroughly enjoyed the two that I have.  Derek is a very authentic character, someone to whom young readers will no doubt relate.  He's funny, self-deprecating, and very likable.  My Life as a Joke, the fourth book in the series, is an easy, entertaining read enhanced by fun illustrations created by Jake Tashjian, the author's son.  Hand these books to Diary of a Wimpy Kid fans—they'll love this "kinder, gentler" series.  I sure do.

(Readalikes:  Other books in the series, including My Life as a Book; My Life as a Stuntboy; My Life as a Cartoonist; and My Life as a Gamer)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


To the FTC, with love:  I borrowed a copy of My Life as a Joke from the library at my kids' elementary school.

And My Harry Potter Love Continues Unabashed ...

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Let it be known:  I have been a Potterhead since Day One.  When Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling was published in the U.S. in 1998, I was a young mother who read voraciously.  Back in the day, however, adults rarely ventured into the children's section of the library and never the YA area (if, indeed, there was one at all).  It wasn't a thing yet, so I felt a little silly reading a kid's book, let alone adoring it as I did.  My unabashed Harry Potter love continued unabated as the series went on and the rest of the world caught on to what I already knew.  Now, everyone's an HP fan.  I don't blame them a bit.  I loved the books as I read them and I love them still today.  My daughter claims to have read each of the installments in the series eight times; I've read each once and that was when they originally came out.  Clearly, a re-read of the whole series has been in order for a long, long time!

Naturally, I started at the beginning with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.  I'm not going to give you a plot summary as you all know what the book's about.  Suffice it to say that this is a magical, transporting read that is just tons of fun.  It's got action, adventure, suspense, mystery—all the good stuff!  The characters are lovable (most of them, anyway), intriguing, and unique; the supporting cast is as delightful as the main one (maybe even more so).  There are many, many reasons Harry Potter has be-spelled so many.  If you haven't read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone at least once, you're missing out.

I'm going to leave off with some of my favorite quotes from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.  Enjoy!

"I hope you're pleased with yourselves.  We could have all been killed—or worse, expelled."  -- Hermione Granger, to Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, p. 162

"It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that."  -- Albus Dumbledore, p. 214

"Oh, honestly, don't you two read?"  -- Hermione Granger, to Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, p. 219

"... to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.  It is in your very skin."  -- Albus Dumbledore, p. 299

"There are all kinds of courage ... It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to your enemies, but just as much to stand up to your friends."  -- Albus Dumbledore, p. 306

(Readalikes:  Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix; Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; Harry Potter and the Cursed Child; Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; Quiddith Through the Ages; and The Tales of Beedle the Bard—all by J.K. Rowling)

Grade:


If this were a movie (and it is!), it would be rated:


for mild language, violence, and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone back in 1998 when it first came out!

Fairest Asks, "How Did an Evil Queen Get So ... Evil?"

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(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Fairest, it may inadvertently ruin plot surprises from previous Lunar Chronicles novels.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Long before Levana became the most powerful queen in history, she was just another princess ...

Bullied and disfigured by her hateful older sister, 15-year-old Levana hides behind the most alluring glamours she can imagine.  She's hoping to attract the gaze of Evret Hayle, a kind captain in the queen's army with whom she is madly in love.  So what if he's married?  Sol is a lowly dressmaker of little consequence—surely, Levana would make a better match for handsome Evret.  Even if she's awkward, shy, and ugly.

As Evret refuses her advances and her flippant, disinterested older sister assumes the throne, Levana feels increasingly hopeless.  She knows she'd be a better queen than flighty Channery and a better wife than Sol.  If only she could get what she really wants, Levana would have her happily ever after.  The question is, to what lengths will she have to go to take what's "rightly" hers?  Fueled by jealousy and frustration, Levana is prepared to do just about anything ...

You all know I'm a big fan of Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles series.  I love it for so many reasons.  Fairest, a short novel that fits between Cress and Winter, is my least favorite installment, yes, but it still has all the excitement and intrigue of its companion books.  It stars a vulnerable Levana, a young woman who yearns for happiness, even if she's looking for it in all the wrong places.  This makes her empathetic, although it's difficult to fully root for her knowing what kind of monster she becomes.  Reading her backstory did make me feel a little bit of compassion for the evil Levana, though.  It also gives insight into the cold, calculating behavior that defines her character in the rest of the series.  So, while I didn't enjoy Fairest as much as the other books in the series, I still found it to be a quick, compelling read that helps flesh out the Lunar world into an even more intriguing place.  Lunartics will not want to miss it!

(Readalikes:  Other books in the series, including Cinder; Scarlet; Cress; Winter; and Stars Above)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I purchased a copy of Fairest from Changing Hands Bookstore with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Fascinating Memoir Describes Indian Orphan's Long Journey Home

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I don't know about you, but I go to the dentist to get book recommendations.  Well, okay, I get my teeth cleaned there as well.  Still, I often come home with suggestions from my hygienist on what books I should read next and what shows I can't miss on Netflix.  I always take note because I love discovering new stories—plus it distracts her from lecturing me on flossing!  Anyway, at one of my last appointments, my hygienist mentioned how amazing she found A Long Way Home, a memoir by Saroo Brierley.  It sounded so fascinating that I knew I had to pick it up.  Apparently, we're not the only ones who thought the story astounding.  The book has been widely read and was recently made into a movie starring Nicole Kidman called Lion.   

Here's what it's all about:  

Until the age of 5, Saroo lived a life of abject poverty in Khandwa, India.  That changed one fateful day in 1986 when he traveled to the local train station with his brother.  The older boy told Saroo to stay where he was until his brother returned.  When his brother did not come back, young Saroo boarded the train anyway.  No one seemed to notice the small boy traveling alone.  By the time he got off the train days later, Saroo was hopelessly lost.  When he was picked up off the streets in Calcutta, he could not tell officials the name of his hometown or even his own surname.  With no way to contact his family, Saroo was placed in an overcrowded orphanage.

Not long after, Saroo was adopted by the Brierleys, a kind Australian couple.  Subsequently reared in Hobart, Tasmania, he was showered with love and affection by his new family.  Still, as he grew up, Saroo wondered about his birth parents and siblings.  Determined to figure out where in India he came from, he pored over maps, pumping his foggy memories for information that would lead him home.  When Google Earth became available, Saroo launched a concerted, methodical search that would ultimately take him back to the place where his life began.

It's an incredible story and one that Brierley relates in a straightforward, very readable manner.  His journey is truly amazing, as is the fierce determination he showed in his dogged pursuit to find his true roots.  As an adoptive mother, I was especially interested in his insights on identity, adoption, and familial love.  Although his story definitely has its disturbing elements, overall it's an intriguing, inspirational memoir that will leave you gaping in wonder.  I enjoyed A Long Way Home very much—it's a quick, compelling read that I (and my dental hygienist) highly recommend. 

(Readalikes:  I haven't read it yet, but I've heard The Orphan Keeper by Camron Wright tells a similar story.)   

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for disturbing subject matter and violence

(Note: Lion is rated PG-13)

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Bounce a Fun, Freaky Friday-ish Adventure

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What do you do when you've got a workaholic mother, a father with anger management issues, an older brother who can barely remember your name, and an older sister who's so mean you wish she would forget you exist?  Frannie Hudson's ready to trade in the lot of them.  The 12-year-old is already frustrated with her un-ideal family, but when her parents decide to take a last-minute, no-kids-allowed vacation—on Christmas no less—she's furious.  Taking a page out of Kevin McAllister's book, she wishes her family away.  The only thing Frannie wants for Christmas is to be somewhere warm and safe with people who love her.

When Frannie awakens on Christmas morning, she's shocked to discover she's gotten her wish.  Only she's no longer Frannie.  Now, she's someone completely different, part of a warm, loving family of people she's never seen before.  It's an amazing, magical adventure that gets even more insane when she wakes up the next day as someone new.  And again.  And again.  As Frannie bounces into new bodies, she experiences all kinds of unimaginable things.  Then, something truly crazy happens—she begins to miss her own family.  Can Frannie return to her old life?  Or will she be stuck in a chaotic carousel of Christmas Days for eternity?  

Bounce by Megan Shull is a fun middle grade novel that entertains a question all of us have surely asked at one time or another:  What if?  Like Freaky Friday and other stories of this kind, the tale is about learning to appreciate what you do have.  Bouncing into other people's lives broadens Frannie's world view, but it also helps her to realize that she's not the only one with problems.  Most of the vignettes serve as filler, however, which makes for a saggy plotline at times.  Still, Frannie's voice is authentic and engaging.  She's definitely a sympathetic heroine, someone for whom it's easy to root.  In the end, I enjoyed her story.  I also appreciated that it closed not with a perfect ending, but with a satisfying one.

(Readalikes:  I'm trying to think of other body switching stories, but, other than Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers, nothing's coming to mind ... ideas?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs)

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

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Dark YA Noir Mystery Just Not Enjoyable

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No one's sure exactly how it happened, but one thing is for certain: vibrant Maggie Kim is dead.  Her body has been discovered in the family swimming pool, chock full of pills.  Did the flamboyant senior kill herself?  Or was it an accident?  Maggie's best friend, Jude, can't accept either explanation.  Maggie was brilliant, beautiful, and brimming with life.  With so much going for her, why would she commit suicide?  Jude is convinced something more sinister has happened: murder.  But who would want Maggie dead?  Suddenly, everyone Maggie knew is looking like a suspect ...

As Jude investigates her friend's death, it becomes painfully apparent that Maggie's been keeping secrets.  Did Jude know her BFF at all?  What else was Maggie hiding?  Did something she knew lead to her untimely death?  Jude is determined to find out, even if it means letting her own skeletons out of the closet.

I've read—and enjoyed—several of Sherri L. Smith's books, so I was thrilled when I discovered she'd published a new one in 2016.  I hoped it would contain the originality of Orleans, the warmth of Lucy the Giant, and the triumphant swell of Flygirl.  Sadly, Pasadena doesn't have any of these things.  Not really.  The novel has been described as noir, so I guess I shouldn't have been surprised by its dark plot, disaffected characters, and depressing overtones.  And yet, I was.  For wealthy white kids (Maggie is Korean-American, but still) living in glittering Pasadena, Maggie and her friends are a very world-weary bunch.  They're unrealistically cynical, inexplicably bitter.  Both Maggie and Jude are selfish, self-absorbed, and just bratty.  I couldn't understand why anyone liked them; I certainly didn't.  Regardless, I did want to know what had happened to Maggie.  The answer—when it came—just made me more annoyed.  So, yeah, Pasadena left me very disappointed.  I've been a Sherri L. Smith fan since she published her first book, but man, her newest just was not enjoyable for me.  At all.  Here's hoping she finds her mojo again with her next attempt.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little of Far From You by Tess Sharpe)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a dozen or so F-bombs, plus milder expletives), mild sexual content, and depictions of underage drinking and the use of illegal drugs

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Bizarre Psychological Thriller Fails to Live Up to Its Promising Premise

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Eleven years ago, Rebecca "Bec" Winter went missing during her summer break in Canbera.  After working her shift at the local McDonald's, the 16-year-old never came home.  She'd been experiencing some odd things, including the feeling of being watched, but Bec never thought much of it.  Then, she disappeared without a trace.

Bearing an uncanny resemblance to the infamous Bec Winter, a 24-year-old homeless woman seizes a chance to avoid police trouble by claiming to be the missing Bec.  Although the lead detective is suspicious of her admission, the imposter is soon living in Bec's home, wearing her clothes, and hanging out with her friends.  The more Bec's doppleganger learns about the woman she's replaced, however, the more worried she becomes.  It appears that Bec's tormentor is still at large.  Will the person who harmed Bec come for her replacement as well?

I love me a good psychological thriller.  You all know that.  When I heard about Only Daughter, a debut novel by Australian author Anna Snoekstra, I knew I wanted to give it a go.  The premise is intriguing, if not wholly original, so I picked it up.  What did I think?  Well ... the story has promise, it really does.  It just doesn't live up to its potential.  First of all, the characters are almost entirely unlikable, especially the two women at the center of the novel.  The plot is tense and suspenseful, true, but it also gets weird—just really bizarre—and far-fetched.  The big reveal seemed improbable, which made the ending unsatisfying for me.  I wanted to like this one, but overall, I just didn't.  Bummer.


Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, violence, sexual content, depictions of underage drinking, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

I Found You A Liked-It-Didn't-Love-It Psychological Thriller

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Single mom Alice Lake lives a lonely life by the sea in East Yorkshire.  The 41-year-old takes care of her "Bennetton" children, makes crafts out of old maps, and minds her own business.  Until she notices a strange man sitting on the beach near her cottage.  He remains there all day, barely moving, despite the inclement weather.  The man seems harmless, although he's dazed and can't remember his name or the reason for his vigil at Ridinghouse Bay.  Despite her reservations, Alice offers the man a room for the night.  As a single night turns into many more, she grows increasingly curious about who the stranger is and what he might be hiding.

Meanwhile, in London, Lily Monrose is searching for her missing husband.  The 21-year-old has only been married for three weeks.  She can't imagine where Carl could be.  When she notifies the police of his disappearance, she's shocked to learn that there is no such person as Carl Monrose.  Stuck in a foreign country with no one to lean on, Lily doesn't know where to turn.  

As both women search for answers, shocking secrets will come to light.  What will they be left with when the truth is finally revealed?

I Found You (available in the U.S. on April 25, 2017), a psychological thriller by Lisa Jewell, tells a tense, twisty tale.  It's an intriguing page turner that kept me reading and guessing.  The novel gets depressing, even a little bizarre in places, but overall, it's a compelling read.  Although I didn't love I Found You, I liked it well enough that I'll search out more books by Jewell.  

(Readalikes: Reminded me a little of Coffin Road by Peter May)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of I Found You from the generous folks at Atria Books (an imprint of Simon and Schuster) via those at NetGalley.  Thank you!

El Deafo An Entertaining Autobiographical Graphic Novel About Acceptance of Others—and Yourself

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

After a battle with meningitis, 4-year-old Cece Bell loses her hearing.  Thrust into a confusing new existence, she must learn how to cope with an overwhelming disability.  She's excited to start school, especially when she receives a powerful hearing aid that will help her communicate better with those around her.  Unfortunately, the Phonic Ear is such a bulky, visible instrument that it makes Cece feel even more conspicuous.  It's tough being different from her family, friends, and classmates.  Cece's emotions bounce from anger to sadness to loneliness to embarrassment to triumph when she finally learns to think of her deafness not as a disability, but as a superpower.  El Deafo won't let hearing loss stop her from being everything she wants to be.  And neither will Cece.

Author/illustrator Cece Bell chronicles her experiences as a deaf child in El Deafo, a graphic novel based on events that really happened to her.  Although it's a thick (and super heavy) book, the story it tells is fast, funny, and compelling.  It's very real—achingly so in places—but that's what makes it so impacting.  Reading about Cece's trials should help readers empathize with those who are "different" as well as making them realize that everyone feels out of place for some reason or another.  El Deafo is entertaining, yes, but it also teaches some important lessons about awareness, acceptance, and turning perceived weaknesses into avowed strengths.  Definitely hand this to your middle graders—they'll be better for reading it.  

(Readalikes: Reminded me a little of Wonder by R.J. Palacio)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs) and cartoon nudity (Cece is depicted in her underwear and without a shirt on -- cartoons are not graphic)

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Second Old San Francisco Mystery Not (Quite) As Compelling As First

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for No Pity for the Dead, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, No Comfort for the Lost.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

When 14-year-old orphan Owen Cassidy discovers a corpse in the basement of the real estate office where he's been working, he turns to the one person he knows will help—not condemn—him.  Celia Davies, a British-born nurse who runs a free clinic for the women of San Francisco, has always been his advocate.  After seeing the body for herself, Celia knows the police must be alerted to the situation.  Detective Nick Greaves is soon on the scene.

The dead man is identified as Virgil Nash.  Plenty of people had motive for offing the importation merchant, who loved to show off his wealth and status.  Greaves' suspicion lands on Frank Hutchinson, one of the real estate partners, who also happens to be his old war buddy.  Although he'd be delighted to arrest Frank, Greaves has plenty of other suspects to interrogate.  Celia, of course, can't stop herself from launching her own investigation.  The more she pokes around, the more she discovers—and the more dangerous her life becomes.  Someone is desperate to stop Greaves and Celia from solving the murder.  How far will they go to prohibit the duo from getting too close to the truth?

I enjoyed No Comfort for the Lost, the first book in Nancy Herriman's Old San Francisco mystery series, so I was excited to pick up the next installment, No Pity for the Dead.  Although I wasn't quite as engrossed in Celia's second adventure, it still made for a good read.  The story gets a bit confusing as there are a few too many characters to keep straight—I had trouble differentiating them all.  Still, the plot moves along at a nice clip.  Celia's a compelling heroine.  Her compassion and fearlessness make her admirable and exciting to follow.  The Old San Francisco setting adds a fun historical element to the novel as well.  Overall, then, I enjoyed No Pity for the Dead.  Not as much as its predecessor, true, but enough.  I'll keep an eye out for the next book in the series.

(Readalikes: No Comfort for the Lost by Nancy Herriman; also reminds me a little of the Veronica Speedwell series [A Curious Beginning; A Perilous Undertaking] by Deanna Raybourn)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, and non-graphic references to prostitution, drug addiction, etc. 

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of No Pity for the Dead from Barnes & Noble with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.
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