Review: Liar and Spy, by Rebecca Stead

2 stars (It was okay). But.

Liar & Spy cover (link to Goodreads)

A long time ago, I shared an apartment with my best friend Marie. We were both in college. She told me that her dad hated being late, so much so, in fact, that he considered it an absolute deal breaker when he showed up to pick up a date and she wasn’t ready to go.

And you know what? That’s fair. When you’re choosing a marriage partner, you’re allowed to be as petty as you need to be. If you know you’d resent someone every time they made you late for something, you’d probably do better avoiding marrying them.

I tried to remember that story when I was dating to help me not take things personally. Who knew what random mannerism or habit of mine might make someone not call me back? It might not even be something bad; it was just a deal breaker for them.

I think about it again now that I’m querying. Yesterday I got a rejection on a full, and the email basically said, “We loved x, y, and z, but ultimately didn’t connect with the character as much as we would have liked.” The thing is, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the character. Different people connect differently with different characters, just like different people connect differently with different people. I’ll keep querying in the hopes that I find someone who does connect with my MC.

This hasn’t been much of a review yet. The truth is, I didn’t really connect with George, and I actively didn’t like Safer. Because of that, I didn’t really care what happened, and I didn’t feel joyful at the ending. But lots of people adored this book and found it immensely satisfying. I’m gonna say this is a me thing and tell you to try it for yourself, especially if you like quiet books with delicately executed themes.

It’s short and sweet and voicey. You very well may like it more than I did.

Review: Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett

2 stars (It was okay).

Chasing Vermeer cover (link to Goodreads)

Okay, I need to preface this by saying my son loved this. He read it with his class in fifth grade, and they worked out the puzzles in the illustrations together, and he ended up asking for a set of pentominoes for his birthday.

So of course, being the middle grade fan that I am, I had to read it. And . . . it wasn’t for me. Too much of the book was one character leaping to an absolutely absurd conclusion, the other character agreeing that of course that must be right, and then it turning out to *be* right. I like a mystery that’s hard but possible to figure out. This just felt like being jerked around.

That said, it’s not exactly a mystery. It’s a puzzle. The whole plot basically sets up the puzzle for the reader. As such, it’s not an especially good plot, though the two main characters are fine enough. But it can be a fun puzzle.

And my son–he of Rubik’s cubes and coding and science fairs–well, he’s a lot like Calder. I can see why he liked this book so much.

Review: Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin

3.5 stars (I liked it quite a bit).

Where the Watermelons Grow cover (link to Goodreads)

I waffled whether to give this 3 or 4 stars. I generally don’t like half stars, but sometimes it’s merited. The thing is, what this book does well, it REALLY does well. And most of the reasons I didn’t rate it higher were personal, not the fault of the author.

I actually bought a hard copy of this book because my library didn’t have it as an audiobook and I wanted to read it so badly I shelled out some of my limited spending money for it when it went on sale. I loved the cover, the title, and the hype it was getting on Twitter. I knew next to nothing about it beyond that.

Here are some of the things it does well:

  1. It depicts mental illness with accuracy and grace. It doesn’t sensationalize it or soften it. The MC’s mother’s schizophrenia is scary and dangerous and sometimes subtle too, and always complex.
  2. It doesn’t present too-simplistic solutions for really hard problems.
  3. It really put me into the setting. The unbearable heat the whole way through was like another character, and I almost felt as if I was sweating, even though I read this in the springtime.
  4. Each relationship was developed gently and organically. The characters felt real.
  5. The prose is gorgeous.

For these reasons, I feel this is an important book. For me personally, sometimes it felt a little . . . cute. And the plot meandered maybe more than I care for. At times I felt slightly bored and unsure where it was going.

But if literary books about important themes are your jam, I’ll bet money you’ll like this one.

Review: Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshana Chokshi

2.5 stars: It was somewhere between okay and good.

Aru Shah and the End of Time cover (link to Goodreads)

To be fair, the book had to be returned to the library before I finished. I think I was 2/3 through. There were things I liked about it (the premise and the mythology mainly), but I didn’t quite feel as if the author had zeroed in enough on the character or the plot. It’s hard to say for sure since I didn’t finish reading, and if I hadn’t run out of time I probably would have. But since I now need to put it back on hold to read the rest, I find I don’t care enough to. Many people find this book a lot of fun. It’s been compared to Percy Jackson, only with Hindu mythology instead of Greek. (Spoiler for a few weeks from now: I didn’t like Percy Jackson either. In fact, I liked it much less than Aru Shah.)

Review: Beautiful Blue World by Suzanne LeFleur

1 star: I didn’t like this book.

Beautiful Blue World cover (link to Goodreads)

This is one of the rare books that I liked well enough to keep reading, but when I finished it I disliked it enough to honestly not like any of the rest in retrospect. I kept expecting something to happen. It didn’t. It was seriously the most pointless book I’ve read all the way through in a long time. Such a pretty cover, though, and it could have been interesting because the setting was kinda cool. 

I talk more about what went wrong (in my opinion, of course) in this post.

Note that many people on Goodreads liked it. There is a strong possibility I just didn’t “get” the book. *shrug*