August 29, 2014

Review: Game

Game Book two of the I Hunt Killers trilogy
By Barry Lyga
Available now from Little, Brown BFYR (Hachette)
Review copy
Read my review of I Hunt Killers

GAME, the sequel to I HUNT KILLERS, takes the action to NYC, where the Hat-Dog Killer is becoming increasingly bold.  The police think Jazz might be able to offer some useful insights, so they fly him out.  His girlfriend Connie follows.  (Howie stays home to help watch Jazz's grandma.)

The climax of GAME is stunning.  Lots of strange pieces fall into place, and our trio of good guys are left in mortal peril.  The trip to that point isn't quite as good as I HUNT KILLERS, but it is still thrilling.  The main problem with it is that it causes some of the characters (mostly Connie) to act in very dumb ways.  At the same time, I liked that the teen characters aren't quite as smart and savvy as they think they are.  They might know more about serial killers than the average teen, but that doesn't make them trained law enforcement officials.

There's also a lot of interpersonal drama between Connie and Jazz.  She wants to have sex; he wants to have sex but it is afraid it might unlock something dark inside him.  His father, serial killer Billy Dent, mixed rape with his killing and Jazz is extremely concerned about that legacy.  His dreams don't help.  Finding a killer does.

If you're looking for intense, dark YA, look no father than this trilogy.  GAME ups the stakes from I HUNT KILLERS (now that Dent is free), and ends spectacularly.  You might want to wait until BLOOD OF MY BLOOD comes out on September 9, or you might decide this is the perfect moment to start reading the series.

August 28, 2014

Review: Monkey Beach

Monkey Beach By Eden Robinson
Available now from Open Road Media
Review copy

In the comments of my review of GREAT SHORT STORIES BY CONTEMPORARY NATIVE AMERICAN WRITERS, Aarti (of BookLust) asked me if I had read MONKEY BEACH by Eden Robinson.  I actually hadn't even heard of it (it comes from Canada), but just a few days later the American edition popped up on NetGalley.  Clearly, I needed to read this book.

MONKEY BEACH is one of those books were I am honestly unsure about how I feel about it.  I suspect Robinson prefers it that way.  MONKEY BEACH slips and slides between the past and the presents, tying the disparate parts of heroine Lisamarie's life together in unexpected ways.  The nominal driving force of the novel is the disappearance of Lisamarie's older brother, Jimmy.  He was on a fishing boat that disappeared; however, he is a great swimmer and there are tons of islands, so there's a small chance he died.  At first it seems odd that Lisamarie would disgress so much, pondering her uncle Mick (for example) instead of focusing on Jimmy.  But it all works together, in a rough sort of way.

This is a hard novel to describe, because nothing much happens in MONKEY BEACH, yet it is a very tumultuous novel.  Life is enough to provide humor and tragedy without big events.  MONKEY BEACH is also a very dark novel.  Education in boarding schools looms over the heads of the previous generation.  Other injustices against the Haisla and other First Nations people continue.  The heroine is date raped, in a thankfully non-explicit scene.  Secrets bubble out of every corner.  Death, drugs, alcohol, sex - they're never far.  At the same time, Lisamarie has an incredible, loving family, a real shot at the future, and a few good friends.

I really loved Lisamarie.  She's angry, prickly, and too foolhardy for her own good.  She also sees things - a little man who fortells deaths, for instance.  Lisamarie never has much hope of Jimmy's survival.  It's a power she seeks to learn more about, but she's still not the type to bear it with grace.

I may not entirely know how I feel about the novel, but MONKEY BEACH was an absorbing reading experience.  I felt a little like I was in Kitamaat, especially when Lisamarie described fish grease in detail.

Eden Robinson is a member of the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations, which makes her a wonderful writer for you to give a chance during A More Diverse Universe, hosted by Aarti.  This will be my third year participating, and I highly recommend it.  I always find new authors that fit my interests among the many reviews it generates.

August 27, 2014

Review: How to Fall

How to Fall First in the Jess Tennant mysteries
By Jane Casey
Available now from St. Martin's Griffin
Review copy

Jess moves, with her mother, back to her mother's childhood town.  It's a real two-horse town, and Jess doesn't just stick out because she's new, but because she looks just like her cousin who died last summer.  No one knows if Freya fell, jumped, or was pushed.  But Jess becomes determined to find out.

HOW TO FALL is filled with suspicious characters.  Freya's former best friends, former romantic rivals, and former suitors are all potential murderers.  (If, that is, someone murdered her.)  But even as Jess suspects everyone, she can't help being drawn to Will, the cute boy next door (who no one in town likes). 

The mystery of Freya's death develops fairly predictably.  (Although the actual resolution surprised me.)  At the same time, Jane Casey seeds intrigue for future books.  Jess's mother burned some bridges when she left, including leaving behind a former beau.  A former, very creepy beau.

If you like mysteries set in secretly sinister small towns, give HOW TO FALL a try.  It has some neat character work, making Freya feel developed even though she is dead the whole time.  She's very distinct from Jess.  Jess is a more realistic, tougher sort.  She fights fire with fire.

HOW TO FALL isn't the most complicated mystery, but it's full of interesting characters and a few intriguing twists.  The preview of the next book in the Jess Tennant mysteries has me eager to learn what happens next in Port Sentinel.

August 26, 2014

Review: Sisters

Sisters Companion to Smile
By Raina Telgemeier
Color by Braden Lamb
Available now from Scholastic Graphix
Review copy

Raina Telgemeier's SMILE is hugely successful, critically acclaimed, and basically everyone was excited when news of a companion graphic memoir broke.  SISTERS is about (surprise surprise) Raina's relationship with her sister Amara.  Raina wished for a sister, but the reality wasn't quite what she hoped.

SISTERS moves smoothly back and forth in time, the borders of the panels helping mark flashbacks.  The bulk of the action takes place on a family road trip to Colorado.  Raina, Amara, their mother, and brother are all in a car (kind of old and broken down), while their father is flying.  Between each "present" section is a flashback to the family growing - sister, brother, pets, and all that comes with.

Some of the darker developments might surprise younger readers, but the astute ones will catch on to some of the underlying family tensions.  At the same time, SISTERS is just as charming and cheerful as expected.  Raina and Amara's combative relationship will be familiar to anyone with a sibling -  as will their moment(s) of detente.
From SMILE by Raina Telgemeier
As always, Telgemeier's art is expressive, albeit deceptively simple.  It's very easy to follow and well laid out, perfect for readers new to or familiar with graphic novels.  There have been no radical changes in style; why change what works?

SISTERS is a slightly looser work than SMILE in addition to being slightly more mature.  It is an excellent companion.  I enjoy Telgemeier's fiction too, but she does a terrific job of mining her own life for story.  The events of sisters are mundane, but the telling is funny and affecting.  SISTERS is sure to please Telgemeier's many fans.

August 25, 2014

Review: Girls' Night Out and Devil Doll

I reviewed five Shebooks back in January, and I mostly enjoyed them.  I've read a few since, including the two I am reviewing in this most.  I must say that they continue to be high quality, but priced a bit high for me.  I know Amazon gives greater royalties at the $2.99 price point, but it took me one lunch break to read both of these stories.  That's not much reading for $6.  It might be a better option for slower readers.

Girls' Night Out Girls' Night Out: a mystery by Kate Flora
Available now from Shebooks
Review copy

The blurb for the novelette is simple and enticing: When the man who date-raped a friend is found not guilty, the women in her book group decide to take matters into their own hands.  The story opens with the friends moving a body, letting the reader know the plan has gone wrong.

I selected "Girls' Night Out" because the blurb reminded me of Fern Michael's Sisterhood series.  I must have good instincts, because that is exactly what I was reminded of.  Local district attorney Jay Hanrahan date raped Ellen Corso - and was found innocent.  Ellen's book club decides to take matters into their own hands and give Jay a taste of his own medicine.

"Girls' Night Out" is a fun bit of black comedy.  It's pretty slight, but it is a fun bit of comeuppance.  I'd certainly try a full-length novel by Kate Flora based on this work.  She's got a nice, wry humor.

Devil Doll Devil Doll: a friendship gone awry by Bonnie Friedman
Available now from Shebooks
Review copy

"Devil Doll" reminded me of one reason why I don't usually read memoirs.  I really felt for Catherine (name changed?) who has quite a bit of her personal life exposed in this memoir, in addition to author Bonnie Friedman's generally low opinion of her.  It can't be nice to have yourself immortalized negatively in a true story.

Bonnie and Catherine were fast friends when they studied abroad, but years later Bonnie dropped her without a word.  "Devil Doll" explores why.  Their relationship had strange ups and downs, including Bonnie sleeping with Catherine's husband, with her permission.  Neither woman comes off very well.  Catherine has a bit of a superiority complex, while Bonnie is judgmental and capricious.  It's well written, but not that enjoyable.

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