Saturday, February 17, 2018

you'll be rooting for Corinne

Family of the Fox by F.M. Isaacs
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fantasy
Review: Corinne's family is keeping secrets from her, and she knows it.  Ordinarily, I hate books where everyone is keeping a secret from the main character, but Isaacs writes Corinne's frustrations so believably that I was able to focus on the story, rather than on my own frustrations with the characters.  Corinne doesn't just sit back and hope that all the answers will spontaneously be revealed to her.  Instead, the pages practically turn themselves as she struggles to find out her family's secrets.  Her perseverance pays off, and she is soon admitted into a world of time travel, shape shifting, and teleportation.  For the most part, her family treats their gifts as fun and games, but of course danger lurks, and soon Corinne and her family must fight for both their past and future.  This fast-paced novel will be perfect for any fan of fantasy, especially of fantasy involving a strong female protagonist.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

the immortal Forrest Gump

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Genre: speculative fiction
Review: Tom has met William Shakespeare, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Captain Cook.  He's over four centuries old (but looks like he's only in his 40s) but of course he can't tell anyone that.  As far as Tom is concerned, being practically immortal (he's not, but he should live well into his ninth century) isn't all it's cracked up to be.  He probably would have done himself in a long time ago, except he has to find his daughter, who's out there somewhere.  He thinks.  But since he hasn't even had a hint of where she might be in about 350 years, he's decided to go back to his roots, which dredge up a lot of memories.  Most of the book alternates between Tom's current life as a history teacher and his reminiscenses as he Forrest Gumps his way through history.

There's not so much plot for most of the book as there is deep, dark philosophical musing on life and time and history.  Until suddenly Haig realizes that he has to actually end the book in some way, and several very dramatic things happen, Tom comes to some startling realizations, and they all live happily ever after.  For a long time.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

teach your children well

Hap & Hazard and the End of the World by Diane DeSanders
Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)
Genre: historical fiction
Review: Hap and Hazard don't really have anything much to do with this story.  They're the family dogs.  The end of the world seem to factor into it much either.  This is the story of an unnamed girl, eldest of three daughters, as she tries to navigate being eight (give or take).  No-one will answer her questions about anything important, and she lives in a world of unexplained things (her father's short temper, her grandparents' various idiosyncrasies, whether there really is a Santa Claus, is there actually something wrong with her, and on and on).  While realistic perhaps, the method of relating a child's experience of the world around her with no explanations about what is really going on is predictably challenging and unfortunately, not very rewarding.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

not subtle, but not preachy

The Leavers by Lisa Ko
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction
Review: When he is 11 years old, Deming's mother goes to work one day, and never returns.  Deming is soon put into foster care and then adopted.  We meet Deming again 10 years later, and struggling with an identity crisis.  Does he want to try to be the academic his academic adoptive parents want him to be, or does he want to follow his own love of music and try to make it as a musician?  Ko is more than a little heavy-handed in making the reader understand that this is something of a stand-in for his mixed feelings about being an American-born Chinese who spent half of his life in a lily-white upstate New York college town.

This character-driven story will appeal both to readers who enjoy books about immigrants, as well as those about characters searching for their own personal identity.  Told through the point of view of Deming (in the third person) and his mother (in the first person), the full story of what happened to Deming's mother, both how she came to America and what happened the day she disappeared, is gradually revealed.  This is a grim, but ultimately hopeful and redemptive novel that lays out the difficulties of immigration and assimilation without being overly preachy.

Friday, January 5, 2018

breadth not depth

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction
Review:  In 1969, the four Gold siblings visit a supposedly mystical woman who can tell the date on which someone will die.  The oldest sibling, Varya, is 13 when they receive the prophecy, and learns that she will live to 88.  Simon, the youngest sibling at 7, learns that he will die at 20.

Benjamin chooses to tell the siblings' stories consecutively, in order of their death, which took a lot of the suspense out of the question of whether the prophecies were ultimately true, leading me to understand that the driving questions of this book is actually, "Does knowing the date of your death become a self-fulfilling prophecy?"  Benjamin seems to take it for granted that we can accept the legitimacy of the prophecy but is so heavy-handed in answering the question of self-fulfillment that the stories of what happen to the siblings seems very shallow.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Old Friends

Summer Hours at the Robbers Library by Sue Halpern
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction
Review: I spent the first 2/3 or so of this book just hoping that when the big reveal(s) came I wouldn't be too disappointed.  It becomes clear early on that something, probably something tragic, happened to Kit at some point, and that something shady is going on with Sunny's family, but for quite some time there really aren't any clues as to what.  In Kit's case, I wasn't disappointed at all.  What happened to her is sufficiently dramatic to make her current circumstances realistic, but not overblown.  Not only that, but the course of learning her backstory side-by-side with her ongoing story made her a more sympathetic character.

Sunny's story isn't as well done, unfortunately.  After being half revealed, the mystery is left to lie fallow until nearly the end of book, at which point it is hastily revealed and even more hastily resolved.  In Sunny's case, though, the mystery has more to do with her parents, and it's really her journey of learning who her parents really are and figuring out how to deal with that knowledge that makes for compelling reading.

None of the characters in this book are particularly three-dimensional, but Halpern writes so well about how they fit together, that it almost doesn't matter.  Every time I opened this book a felt like I was walking into the grand old library in washed-up Riverton, NH, about to meet my own good friends.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

tastes like cardboard

Rosie Colored Glasses by Brianna Wolfson
Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction
Review:  Willow's parents are complete opposites.  Rosie is a free-spirit who believes in the power of colors, the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and not keeping to a schedule, and seems to exist solely on Pixie Stix, cream soda, and pizza.  Rex is firm and regimented and believes in balanced dinners and to-do lists.  Opposites may attract, but they can also explode.  And what happens to the kids when the attraction ends?  Willow can tell you, but it's not pretty.

This book had the potential to be an interesting exploration of a child's experience of navigating divorced parents. Unfortunately, Rex and Rosie are both such complete caricatures of their types that it felt like reading about cardboard cut-outs.  They are almost exclusively written to type, except when they do something so wholly out of character that it's nearly inexplicable.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.