Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Review: Violent Ends



Violent Ends
Edited by Shaun David Hutchinson
Expected publication September 1, 2015 by Simon Pulse

It's possible that Kirby Matheson's name is unfamiliar, but everyone will know it soon enough. This is the story of Kirby told by people who knew him and people who didn't. It's the story of Kirby before and it's the story of Kirby after - after he brings a gun to school and kills six people.

I'd heard a lot of buzz about this book for some time. It's a series of interconnected stories, written by a variety of authors, telling the story of a school shooting. I was intrigued by the concept and I think it's an important topic to examine, so I was pleased to see the e-galley available.

I expected to like this a lot more than I did and I actually find myself at a bit of a loss regarding what to say about it. Generally, I love books of interconnected stories - I think it's a fascinating narrative approach. I really liked its use here - getting the stories surrounding the school shooting through a variety of voices. And I really appreciated the wide variety of voices used in this collection - there is even a story from the point of view of the gun (maybe my favorite, certainly the most memorable of the collection). I liked discovering the degrees of connectedness to the central incident through each story - some of them surprised me quite a bit (I'm thinking of one in particular with a startling reveal at the very end that left me with significantly more questions than answers). But, as with all collections of stories, some are better than others. I appreciated the complex dimensions this book reaches - violent crime is a problem in our society, one that we often blithely choose to ignore in favor of personal freedoms, but it's a problem that needs to be discussed. I appreciated that this collection addressed the mixed emotions felt by all involved in a tragedy such as this - relief, guilt, confusion, anger, sadness, and many more. There are no easy answers here and I'm glad the book took that approach.

My main complaint about this is strictly due to my reading it in digital ARC form - the author names were not listed at the start of each story, so I couldn't tell who wrote what. Ultimately, it doesn't matter since the author wouldn't affect my feelings about the story, but I was far too lazy upon reaching the end to thumb back and figure out who wrote what. Obviously, this won't be a problem in the print version (I find it easier to flip back and forth in print than electronically), so this is really a non-issue for readers.

Overall, I thought this book was well-done but I'm not sure all of it was memorable enough to stick in my mind.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Review: The Wolf Wilder



The Wolf Wilder
By Katherine Rundell
Expected publication August 25, 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Feo and her mother live a solitary existence - well, if you don't count the wolves. Once upon a time, wealthy Russians would keep wolves as pets until their natural instincts took over. These wolves - halfway between domestic and wild - would have to be trained again to live in the wild. Feo and her mother are wolf wilders. Feo loves her life with the wolves. That's why she'll stop at nothing to get it back when the Tsar arrests her mother and threatens to kill her wolves.

I've read Rundell's previous books and enjoyed them well enough - her first more than her most recent. In fact, I was well ready to write off Rundell altogether after her last title. But then, fortuitously, I spotted this e-galley available and downloaded it. I'm glad I had a change of mind.

Much to my surprise, I absolutely loved this book. To be clear, I can see it likely has some faults, but I fell completely for this story. What is most interesting to me is that many of the things I faulted her previous title for - a headstrong, brash main character and a repetitive series of adventures - were the things I loved most about this title. Feo reminded me of Wilhemina (the protagonist of Rundell's previous novel) - she's grown up mostly removed from society, surrounded largely by animals rather than people. As such, her social skills often leave something to be desired. For some reason, though, in Feo's case, it comes off less harshly and selfish than it did in Will's. It seemed more obvious to me that Will's intentions were always in the right spot, even if her actions weren't the proper ones. Feo always seemed more flexible and willing to learn from others as the story progressed and circumstances took her far beyond her comfort zone. These were qualities that I felt Will lacked. Feo and her interactions with others made me laugh rather than cringe, so clearly I was inclined to like this one more than her previous.

I quite enjoyed the other characters as well. Every time a new one was introduced, I was eager to hear their story and I don't think I was disappointed by any of them. Rundell does an excellent job here of infusing even relatively minor characters with some small hint of a life beyond her pages and I loved discovering these. Some of it is not so subtle (from the moment he appears, it's obvious Ilya will play a significant role), but it never bothered me.

As I said previously, the adventures do get a bit repetitive - Rakov is villainy, Feo escapes, Rakov catches up, etc. However, it never grates because the stakes feel devastatingly real. This book is not afraid to be a bit dark. So, although Rakov is a tiny bit of a villain caricature, the book never feels cartoonish. Spoilers maybe, but people and animals get hurt in this book and it feels heartbreakingly real. I'm not ashamed to admit I cried during this one - that's how engrossed I was with this story.

For the faults I can obviously acknowledge: Rundell takes extreme liberties with her wolves here. Personally, I didn't consider this a fault because I wasn't reading this as a piece of straight historical fiction (and I'm not sure it ever purports to be that). But, I can certainly see some readers balking at Rundell's depiction of wolf behaviors and attitudes. Additionally, later in the book, it touches upon some Russian politics which I can imagine might get boring for the reader but felt like a natural part of the story to me.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this and am very glad I didn't overlook it because of my past ambivalence with the author.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Review: Lair of Dreams



Lair of Dreams (Diviners, book two)
By Libba Bray
Expected publication August 25, 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

WARNING: There may be spoilers for book one ahead. Read my review of that title here.

After a showdown with a real-life creepy-crawly, Evie's secret talent is not so secret anymore. Now, she's the "Sweetheart Seer," making a living off of her supernatural gift. But is all of America ready for the Diviners to reveal themselves? At the same time, a mysterious sleeping sickness has hit the city, claiming more and more victims every day. Are the Diviners ready for another showdown?

I don't think I can explain to you how excited I was when I was approved for the e-galley of this. It took all my willpower not to drop everything and start reading it immediately. I've been looking forward to this book for more than two years, after all!

So, perhaps it comes as no surprise that this book failed to live up to my expectations. After completely loving book number one and then waiting (rather impatiently) as the publication date for this was pushed back and pushed back, I was ready to be blown away by book two. And I wasn't. It makes me sad to say it but, for me, this didn't live up to the promise of the first.

While I still love the cast of characters, Evie lost a bit of her charm for me with this one. I think it was all the dithering about Jericho and the flutters she begins to feel for Sam - does there have to be a love triangle? Particularly with a character I view as no-nonsense. It just irked me. Additionally, the stories with each of the characters felt a bit more disjointed in this one - I had a hard time trying to see how they were all going to tie together. I assume that Bray still has some master endgame in which the Diviners must all unite to battle the biggest supernatural baddie of all and save life as we know it, but it was difficult at times to keep that notion in mind while reading this book.

And, speaking of supernatural baddies, after the amazingly creepy Naughty John and the story of the end of the world cult, the villain in this entry fell extremely short. I was not at all creeped out while reading this one and that was a great disappointment to me. I mean, I guess they can't all be mind-numbingly terrifying, but I expected much more horror than I got. Perhaps because of my lack of interest in the villain, this book also seemed to move much more slowly than the first book and I really felt the 600 pages I read to finish it. Bits of this actually felt like filler, which just boggles my mind, but I suppose if I believe in the endgame bit, it'll probably all turn out to be relevant in the end. Despite my disappointment in this entry, I adored book one so much that I will definitely be back for the next installment (which I imagine will take another two years to arrive).

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via NetGalley.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Review: The Creeping



The Creeping
By Alexandra Sirowy
Expected publication August 18, 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

When Stella was a young girl, she disappeared with her best friend. She came back. Her best friend never did. But Stella has tried to move on with her life. Then, a body is discovered - the body of a little red-headed girl, a body that reminds Stella all too much of her disappeared best friend. When Stella learns that other red-headed girls have vanished over the years, she knows she must solve the mystery.

The promise of a creepy mystery drew me into downloading this e-galley when I discovered it. I love reading horror novels but I haven't had a ton of luck with YA horror. Nevertheless, I'm determined to keep trying them.

Here is my main problem with this book: any creepiness that may be generated by the possibly-uncovering-a-spooky-monster-in-the-woods-that-eats-little-red-headed-girls-and-anyone-who-comes-close-to-discovering-it is completely nullified every single gosh darn time Stella worries that her image might be tarnished by trying to solve the mystery with her former best friend and current high school loser, Sam. And, lo, my friends, those times are many. I literally could not believe how much of her headspace and time Stella devotes to worrying about being seen with Sam or concerned that her terribly abusive new best friend, Zoey, will be pissed when she finds out that Stella has been seeing Sam behind her back. I mean, there may be a scary monster that eats people out there and you may be next on its list (or maybe it's a creepy multi-generational cult), but let's go ahead and worry more about drama surrounding the boy you like. Just, excuse me while I try to stop my eyerolling.

That being said, I thought the book did a decent job of walking the line between a supernatural monster and a human one, keeping readers guessing until the very end which kind it will turn out to be. Personally, I worried that the monster was going to be the one I didn't want (no, I will not tell you which of those options I mean), but I was happy when the ending resolved things in a way that felt believable to me. So, though I struggled with the atmosphere of the book and the characters, the mystery itself was well done and I'd be interested in reading what Sirowy does next.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Capsule Reviews: YA Edition


A Million Suns (Across the Universe, book two)
By Beth Revis

Published 2012 by Razorbill
Review of book one
Three months have passed since the events of the first book. Amy still struggles to find a place for herself aboard the ship. Elder struggles to become the leader he knows he must be. It isn't long before another crisis arises, catapulting both Amy and Elder into a frantic hunt for the truth among all the lies that make up Godspeed.

After listening to the first on audio, I picked up the print version of book two for both my fiance and I to read. I was interested to see what direction the series would go in, as book one didn't set up an explicit course. This continues in the time-honored tradition of "main character discovers ancestors have kept very important secrets" and I found it mostly enjoyable. I find the exploration of sexuality and sexual assault interesting and, at the same time, a bit misplaced in this series. I think it was used as a plot device here, which I didn't terribly enjoy. The plot moves quickly again, and I continue to enjoy the dual narration. I still favor Elder's character, though he got a bit whiny in this entry. The setup for book three is much more explicit here and I currently have it checked out. I hope to read it soon.


A Corner of White (The Colors of Madeleine, book one)
By Jaclyn Moriarty, read by Fiona Hardingham, Andrew Eiden, Kate Reinders, and Peter McGowan
Published 2013 by Scholastic Audio
Madeleine lives in Cambridge with her mom, adjusting to a quieter life than she's used to. Elliot lives in Bonfire, in the Kingdom of Cello, determined to solve the mystery of his father's disappearance. Inexplicably, their lives will cross, changing them both forever.


This was one of Audiofile's SYNC titles this summer. I remember discussion around this book when it was released and I thought it sounded interesting, so I took the opportunity to squeeze it into my schedule as a listen. I actually think this book signified the beginning of my reading slump. This was a long listen and I struggled with it. It takes a long time for this book to make sense. It's not until maybe 3/4 of the way through that you fully understand why you're reading both Madeleine and Elliot's stories - they don't really have a strong connection for the majority of the book. In addition, I had problems with both readers (as a side note, I don't know why there are 4 readers listed in everything I found - I only noticed two). The reader of Madeleine's story adopted an extremely strange accent for her voice - which, to be fair, is exactly what the text says. But to actually hear it spoken - I didn't enjoy it. The reader for Elliot's story was terrible at inflection - everything was read in a monotone and it was very distracting. So, as I said, I struggled with this. It picked up at the end a bit, enough that I'd like to see where the story goes next but it's fair to assume I won't be checking out the audio version.

The Living (The Living, book one)
By Matt de la Pena, read by Henry Leyva
Published 2013 by Brilliance Audio
Shy needs money, so he takes a summer job working on a cruise ship. It can't be all bad, right? But then, the biggest earthquake recorded hits and suddenly Shy finds himself in a massive fight for survival.

Another of the SYNC titles this summer, I happily downloaded it when it was available. I'd heard lots of great things about this book, so I was really looking forward to squeezing it into my reading schedule. That being said, I was pretty disappointed in this one. First, it's a trivial thing, really, but I couldn't get past the main character being called Shy. I sometimes have a hard time with names that just don't sound right to me and this was one of those times. It didn't really seem to suit the character or the story, but your mileage may vary. Second, this book was just not what I expected. I expected zombies - I don't know why really. Maybe the cover gave me that impression. But I expected zombies and was extremely disappointed. Third, it's billed as a survival story but it never really felt that way to me. Perhaps the audio just didn't convey the direness of the situation well, but I never truly felt like Shy was in significant danger. I really didn't enjoy the conspiracy part of the plot at all. I also don't love that this is the first book in a series - where is the series going to go from here? I don't know and I'm only mildly curious to find out.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Capsule Reviews: Middle Grade Reviews



Anywhere but Paradise
By Anne Bustard
Published 2015 by Egmont USA
Peggy Sue certainly did not want to move to Hawaii but, unfortunately, she has no choice. Her beloved cat is stuck in quarantine and Kiki, a classmate, relentlessly bullies Peggy Sue. Things only get worse when a tsunami hits and Peggy Sue's parents are unaccounted for.

An ARC of this arrived at my library back in the spring and I set it aside as something I wanted to read before passing it along to the kids. It eventually became the book I read during slow times at the children's desk, so it took me quite some time to finish it. What I liked most about this book was the setting - Hawaii in 1960. I'm hard-pressed to think of another novel set during this same period and in this same place, when Hawaii's statehood was still brand new. I liked learning more about Hawaiian culture and I liked the small historical details peppered throughout. I did think that there could have been more of both - as a whole, the book focuses on small dramas and there were a lot of pieces that I thought would have benefited from being expanded upon. The chapters are very short, making this a quick read during those times I had a chance to read it. A good choice for more unique historical fiction.

On the Day I Died: Stories from the Grave
By Candace Fleming, read by a full cast
Published 2012 by Listening Library
In a cemetery outside Chicago, a teen finds himself surrounded by ghosts, eager to share their stories. He's in for a long night...

I was in between SYNC titles this summer, so I downloaded this audio, a book I'd been wanting to check out since its publication. Short story collections are often a mixed bag and I think this one was no exception. I enjoyed the variety of time periods covered throughout the stories and the occasional appearance of a historical figure (gangsters play a significant role in one story). I liked that this is basically a newer version of scary story collections I read as a child (though, in this case, you know the outcome of every story since the ghosts are telling them). However, none of the stories were really that scary (I realize I am saying this as an adult person reading a novel intended for middle graders, but I don't think young me would have been frightened either) and some went on a bit long for my taste. Additionally, one line in one story stood out to me so much that I wrote it down: "Having three younger sisters, I had a soft spot for the weak and defenseless." REALLY? That one line bothered me so much that I half tuned out to everything I listened to after it. So, while I'm sure this will appeal to many readers, it was not my favorite.

The Dragon Lantern (The League of Seven, book two)
By Alan Gratz
Published 2015 by Starscape
Archie Dent is convinced that he and his friends are the latest incarnation of the legendary League of Seven. Though he knows they are strongest when together, circumstances will split up the friends as they go in search of answers to questions of their past.

I read the first book in this series last summer and enjoyed it enough to anticipate the arrival of book two, so I snatched it up as soon as it arrived at the library this summer. This was the main bright spot in my unfortunate reading slump. The action is once again non-stop, keeping me turning the pages at a furious rate. New characters arrived on the scene and more details about familiar characters were revealed. While I enjoyed the separate adventures occurring simultaneously, it was clear that Archie is meant to be the hero of the series - his adventures had two or three chapters for every one that focused on Hachi and Fergus. There is a lovely twist in this one as well and I continue to be completely fascinated by the world that Gratz has created here. I'm very pleased with this entry in the series and can't wait for the next one!

Crows & Cards
By Joseph Helgerson, read by MacLeod Andrews
Published 2009 by Brilliance Audio
Zeb Crabtree is being booted from his home - sent to apprentice with a great-uncle and ease the burden on his family. Too bad that Zeb sets off on a different path almost immediately, falling in with a riverboat gambler. Zeb soon finds himself stuck in a place he doesn't want to be - can he figure out a way out?

Yet another of the Audiofile SYNC titles for the summer, I downloaded this one because I love historical fiction. I got the feeling from the description that this book might be a bit like The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, a historical book I quite enjoyed and also listened to. However, though there may be some similarities (a boy sets out on his own path, finding a string of adventures along the way), I didn't enjoy this one as much. I didn't find it as entertaining and it seemed much slower-moving. The adventures that Zeb has are definitely not as exciting as those had by Homer. What I appreciated most was the setting - I liked that this took place right before the Civil War. All in all, though, I found this mostly unremarkable.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Review: Reawakened



Reawakened (Reawakened, book one)
By Colleen Houck
Expected publication August 11, 2015 by Delacorte Press

Lily escapes to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a morning of peace during her spring break. Unfortunately, that peace eludes her, as she instead discovers a reawakened Egyptian prince, imbued with the power of the gods and tasked with completing a ritual to prevent the god of chaos from rising. Oh, and he needs Lily's help.

When I spotted this e-galley available, I'll admit that I was immediately drawn to the cover. I really like the styling of it and think it pops. Then I read the description and thought, "Hmm...Egyptian mythology. Sounds good to me!" No surprise that I downloaded it.

Unfortunately, I didn't love it. I think the thing that bothered me most about it was (sorry if this is a spoiler but really, if you read teen books, it shouldn't be) the insta-love. I think Houck tried to make this seem more interesting by making it read as if this insta-love is just one-sided but, ho-ho, tricksy author! You can't fool me - and likely won't fool most other readers either. Lily spends so much of her time worried about being rejected by Amon that she drove me crazy. And, oh my gosh, the disordered eating that is described - how can you seriously think it's okay to write a teenage girl character and talk about how all she has is tea for lunch without even suggesting that might be a problem?!? This deeply bothered me.

The characters I most enjoyed didn't appear until quite far into the book - Amon's resurrected brothers. They, at least, had a bit of personality, something that Amon mostly lacked. The ending also felt rushed, which led to my discovery that this is but the first in a series. WHY???? Why does everything have to be a series? Why can't I just read a nice stand-alone YA speculative fiction title? I just get so weary of reading series, though perhaps my sentiments are not shared by the actual target audience. Regardless, I might have enjoyed this book a bit better if it hadn't so clearly left things open for sequels.

Overall, I didn't actively despise the book, but I found it mostly silly and underwhelming.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.