Friday, October 19, 2018

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus

Ellery and her twin brother Ezra are moving cross country to live with their grandmother in Echo Ridge while their mother is in rehab.  The teens don't know a lot about their mother's hometown other than the fact that their aunt disappeared while she was in high school and five years ago another homecoming queen was murdered.  Ellery is a true crime buff and finds herself with a real crime to investigate when a popular teacher is killed by a hit and run on the day they arrive in town.  Within days that event is overshadowed by a public threat promising to kill another member of the homecoming court.  History seems to be repeating itself when another girl goes missing.  Everyone seems to be a possible suspect but Ellery needs to sort it out because the killer is getting closer to her.

I liked McManus' One of Us is Lying but I like this title even more for its traditional hard-core mystery cred.  There are red herrings galore and I was as confused as Ellery as to the identity of the villain but the story itself is not confusing, just a fun ride.  What's more, I thought I had guessed a plot twist but I was wrong!  That hardly ever happens so it is delightful and a mark of some unique plotting when I am fooled.  All the characters were fleshed out enough for me to invest in them and to feel mad when they were treated/treated others poorly.  If I were to make one complaint it would be that there could've been more breadcrumbs dropped to lead me to the killer's identity.  I've read mysteries where the criminal shows up out of the blue having barely even been introduced and that is just unfair to the reader who has no chance to solve the crime.  This was not that low, but I did stop for a minute to think about whether I should be angry about the lack of foreshadowing.  Instead, I just kept reading because I was so wrapped up in the story that I wanted to see what happened next.  But if there are revisions to be done, I'd suggest more hints along the way for the sleuthing readers.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Nightbooks by J.A. White

Alex is on his way to the incinerator when he is lured into and imprisoned in a witch's apartment.  Natacha plans a horrible fate for Alex but another captive tells him that the witch loves stories.  As it happens, Alex has his "nightbooks" - journals in which he he writes scary stories.  Day by day he buys himself a little more time while he searches for an escape.

There are parts of this book I liked a lot but overall it was just an average read for me.  I liked Alex's stories and his creativity and I cringed when they were damaged.  I was equally absorbed and terrified during the mishap in the greenhouse because I didn't see how they were possibly going to fix that situation and it just kept getting worse!  This will be a good horror story for my younger students because it is well-written but not too mature or overly scary.  For me, I can appreciate the book but it didn't draw me in entirely.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Sneaking Out by Chuck Vance

Luke and his roommate Oscar are sneaking out to meet up with two girls on the grounds of their boarding school.  Oscar is mostly looking to hook up with Kelsey but Luke actually likes Pippa who has just arrived from England.  While the four are hanging out in the woods they hear someone coming and then hear the headmaster's wife arguing with someone.  They all make it back to their dorms without getting caught but the next morning they learn that the headmaster's wife was murdered during the night right next to their rendezvous spot.  Before long, Oscar is the prime suspect in her murder even though Luke is finding that there are plenty of other people who have the motive and the background to have killed her.

I was kept guessing about the killer's identity throughout this book although I did have my suspicions about the actual murderer fairly early on.  However, so many people were set up as such good suspects that I couldn't be sure of any of them!  And with Luke just as confused as I was, I couldn't rely on any of his investigating.  I enjoyed his buddy relationship with Oscar a lot and eventually came around on Pippa although she was quite a cold fish at first.  And it's clear she is still hiding some important things from Luke (this mystery is the beginning of a series) so she might still be part of some other crimes.  This is a well-crafted mystery with so many great characters that I just had fun the entire time.

Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl

Beatrice used to be part of close-knit group of friends but things changed after her boyfriend, Jim, died, apparently by suicide.  The group never discussed Jim's death and Bea left town after graduation.  On a night back at home, she meets up with her former friends and they all go to a party. But on the way home they are in a car accident that leaves them in limbo between life and death.  They're told that time is essentially frozen until they come to a unanimous decision - only one of them can live.  They will repeat the same Wake until the vote is unanimous, letting one of them live and the rest die.  After hundreds of Wakes, the group decides that the answer must have something to do with Jim's death and they begin trying to answer the questions they have about that.

Such an intriguing, dark premise. I went into the book with excitement from both the premise AND a recommendation from "Nerdette".  It's a shame it never captured me the way I expected.  The characters other than Bea all came across as snobs who just worked at covering up their actions and I felt no connection with any of them.  My interest was briefly reinvigorated when we learned more about how the Wakes are shaped and through that the group discovered a way to investigate other times, but then my state of mind reverted to just trying to get through the book.  It ended up being too murky for my taste without enough of a bang at the end to make up for it all.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Body Swap by Sylvia McNicoll

Hallie is walking through a parking lot, dreaming of running into the boy she hopes will be her first kiss, when she is hit by an SUV driven by an elderly woman.  Both Hallie and the driver, Susan, end up in the afterlife and they argue about who's to blame.  God - posing as a man named Eli - gives them the opportunity to return to Earth but when they get there, they find they have swapped bodies.  Now Hallie has to feel the pains of old age while Susan is living it up in her young body.  Both of them find they have things to learn from the other.

I love a body or soul swap story and all the inherent lessons learned which is what attracted me to this title in the first place.  But in the execution of this story, I was not so impressed.  One of the main issues was trying to keep the two characters straight.  I don't know how the author could've written them more clearly so that I'd be able to picture who was narrating at any particular time but it wasn't this way.  I invested way too much time working out the dynamics of who was speaking and what the relationships were with the friends and family members in each scene.  Aside from that, I was also just not very interested in how the SUV story played out, particularly how Susan's son finally got on board with the issues.  Finally, the usual trope for these stories is that both parties learn something about how great they have it already but I wasn't seeing any reason for Susan to feel like she wanted her old body back. 

Pretty in Punxsutawney by Laurie Boyle Crompton

Andie has been spending the summer hanging around the local movie theater, crushing on Colton and helping him do his job.  She is convinced that they will live happily ever after as soon as she can get him to kiss her.  But disaster strikes on the first day of school when she wears a weird retro dress and finds Colton distracted by a hot girl.  She gets a new chance to make it perfect when she keeps reliving the first day of school over and over, trying different tactics each time.  Could it be that the lessons she has learned from her mom's beloved 1980's movies "Pretty in Pink" and "Groundhog Day" won't help her in real life?

I was just looking for something light and fun and this was definitely that, but still not as engrossing as I was hoping even with those expectations.  Andie did grow, but it took her quite awhile to get there and her escapades weren't surprising enough to keep me as delighted as I wanted.  I also have a hard time believing that teens today are going to be as interested in 30-year old movies as the author of this book is. 



Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Pride by Ibi Zoboi


Zuri and her younger sisters have placed bets on who will be moving into the newly renovated house across the street in their Brooklyn neighborhood.  With all the lavish updates they've seen, a couple of the sisters were betting that a white family was moving in so they are all surprised to see a black family - with two gorgeous boys - arrive.  The older of the two boys immediately hits it off with Janae, Zuri's older sister who has just come home from college.  The younger neighbor, Darius, annoys Zuri right off the bat with his arrogant attitude.  She much prefers cute and flirtatious Warren who gets her and the pride she has in her neighborhood. And when Darius makes it clear he has an issue with Warren, well that just gives her even more reason to like him.  Despite their mutual dislike, Zuri and Darius seem to keep being thrown together and they slowly learn that first impressions aren't always reliable.

This book takes its general storyline from Pride & Prejudice but of course brings a contemporary mindset and some other plot points of its own.  I'm a huge P & P fan so I'm not sure if that helped or hindered my enjoyment of the book.  On one hand, it was disconcerting when I felt like some of my favorite parts of the original weren't included in this version.  And I couldn't always relax entirely into this book because I was comparing and contrasting while reading.  But on the other hand, it was delightful to see the way in which Zoboi took beloved characters and updated them for this setting.  In particular, Mr. Collins jumps to mind.  And of course I felt so clever when I could see that Warren was Wickham and was on the lookout for how he was going to end up being a jerk.  (Not that I am any more clever than any other Pride & Prejudice reader, but my brain was congratulating me for being so smart.)  In the end, I feel like this might be best enjoyed by someone who is coming to the story for the first time.  The story line is timeless and wonderful and Zoboi does a great job of making it ring for teens.