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E.M. Bristol "bibliophile" RSS Feed (boston, mass)
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Anatomy of a Misfit
Anatomy of a Misfit
by Andrea Portes
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.57
68 used & new from $0.49

3.0 out of 5 stars The mean streets of tenth grade..., February 4, 2016
This review is from: Anatomy of a Misfit (Hardcover)
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High school sophomore, Anika Dragomir, protagonist of "Anatomy of a Misfit," has more than a few problems. Her clique leader, Becky, is only slightly nicer to her than the rest of the underlings she terrorizes on a daily basis. Her boss at her fast food job is a bully to her friend, Shelli; her Romanian father wants her to get A's, even in gym; she's stuck in small town, racist Nebraska sometime in the eighties - you get the picture. Also, she has a boy dilemma - should she go out with newly cool Logan with the moped, or "stone cold fox" Jared, with the bad reputation? Either way, she will be in seriously hot water with Becky (as she also has a crush on Jared). Things are further complicated when an African-American girl named Tiffany is hired to work with Anika, and it looks like she has problems of her own. Oh, and she doesn't get along with her stepfather and spiteful older sisters, though she does have a positive relationship with her mom. So this is basically five star teen angst here, although part of the character arc is her realizing that she doesn't have it quite as bad as she originally believes.

Thoughts: Some of the pop culture references didn't seem to fit the era. For example, I don't think many girls of Anika's age in that period would hold up James Dean and Elvis as sex symbols, or compare something to the breakup of the Beatles.. There's nothing wrong with putting in such references, though too many will date the book, but it should at least be accurate to the period.

There was one subplot which I think I might feel offended if I were an African American reading this. I also thought Anika's mom's reaction was odd.

The end reminded me of a Hollywood movie about teens, rather than what would actually happen at such a sober event.

However, it's made clear that the book is based on true life events, so in these cases, I can't help wondering where truth ends and fiction begins.


Baggage
Baggage
by S.G. Redling
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.95

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Grisly, absorbing read, January 30, 2016
This review is from: Baggage (Hardcover)
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One thing I ask myself whenever I encounter a book where the protagonist is, as popularly termed, "a hot mess," is if he or she has earned this designation, and therefore should be entitled to sympathy, not just contempt. With Anna Schuler, the main character of "Baggage," who (we learn early on) lost her father in some gruesome way that involved her mother going to jail, Anna severing all connection from her mother and moving in with her cousin's family at age eleven, and her becoming the subject of a Wikipedia page she refuses to talk about as an adult, I would say the answer is a resounding yes. Also factor in that Anna, when the book begins, is approaching the anniversary of her husband's suicide, (which also involved dealing with unsympathetic police), and it's not a surprise that she plans to spend the rest of that day getting drunk, after finishing work at a Pennsylvania college where she is a student counselor. To her surprise, her cousin Jeannie, who formerly taught at the same college, shows up at her door and goes out with her. She awakens the next morning with no recollection of the night's activities and her home a mess.

Unfortunately, for Anna, she soon has more to worry about than merely tidying up. Upon reaching her office, she discovers that there is a crime scene involving someone who was killed in that building. While she claims her ties to the deceased, a professor whose overtures she refused, are minimal, the two detectives that take the case feel differently. Though her colleague, Meredith is disarmingly friendly and seems eager to help solve the case, Anna (unlike 99 percent of protagonists in such mysteries) feels no urge to play amateur detective herself. Without this angle, "Baggage" instead spends a lot of time looking at the relationships between the various female characters and examining the tensions between them (and the deceased). But as the detectives proceed with the case, it begins to look as if the perpetrator is someone Anna knows, who is familiar with Anna's past, and her own life may soon be at risk, as well.

This novel has some very graphic scenes (dismemberment plays a role in the nature of the crime), including a "showdown" scene at the end that I thought was over the top. However, most of the characters are multi-layered and allowed to have flaws, like real life people. The big reveal does seem to hinge on a twist that goes unmentioned and would be helpful to the reader in figuring out the case, but overall, I enjoyed this mystery and thought it also had some perceptive things to say on the nature of creativity and mental illness.


Lenox Butterfly Meadow Melamine All Purpose Bowl, White
Lenox Butterfly Meadow Melamine All Purpose Bowl, White
Price: $12.00
5 used & new from $8.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lovely set, January 27, 2016
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This dinnerware set comes in four pieces. Each of the bowls is white with a scalloped border at the top and a pattern of multicolored flowers and butterflies painted on the sides. Size-wise, they are appropriate for serving salads, soups and perhaps cereal, too. In addition, they are reportedly shatterproof, which I have not attempted to test but will take the manufacturer's word. Overall, they are useful for dining and attractive, as well, though I have not yet used them outdoors either.


Assassin's Masque (Palace of Spies)
Assassin's Masque (Palace of Spies)
by Sarah Zettel
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $10.87
49 used & new from $6.57

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Not a normal sort of girl....", January 23, 2016
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In the third of Sarah Zeitel's Palace of Spies series, "Assassin's Masque," the protagonist, Peggy Fitzroy, resumes her spying duties while serving as a maid-in-waiting to Princess Caroline of Wales. After Peggy uncovered a Jacobite plot against the current rulers of England, her disgraced Uncle Pierpont has recently committed suicide, leaving his wife and Peggy's cousin/best friend, Olivia, in a state of emergency. To complicate things, her father, whom she had long believed dead, has returned and also wishes to enlist her in a spying mission, in addition to her long-time patron, Mr. Tinderflint needing her help. As Olivia is more than eager to assist her, Peggy gets permission to bring her along to court. Upon her return there, she has much to occupy her time, besides her usual duties, as Peggy must shadow one of the Sandford brothers, who may be complicit in another plot; figure out the whereabouts of the other brother; track down and decode letters that explain their mission; and figure out whether the mysterious woman who attended her uncle's funeral, is an ally or foe. Not only that, but Peggy wants answers to some of the questions surrounding her family heritage.

As this is the third book in a series, prior events are often alluded to, but it's possible to easily figure out what's going on. Peggy is an engaging heroine who maintains a pitch perfect voice and vocabulary of that era. If I had one quibble, it was that the other two books sounded more exciting plot-wise, as this one took awhile to get to the action. .


Marked
Marked
by Laura Williams McCaffrey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $11.87

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "i'm not a cheater.", January 21, 2016
This review is from: Marked (Hardcover)
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Lyla, the adolescent heroine of "Marked," lives with her sister, Hope, and her parents in a dystopian community, in which only select youth are permitted higher education. Because her family is working class (her parents are miners), the two girls are held to a higher standard than say, children of the ruling class called barons. Key to their power is their ability to harness and control a substance called Protean, which gives light and energy. Rebellion comes in the form of the group called Red Fists, and there are shadow markets, in addition, where people can buy contraband goods. When we first meet Lyla, she is struggling in her studies and debating whether or not to purchase cheat sheets from the market. After she is caught and "marked" (tattooed) as a punishment, she is unexpectedly given the chance to have it erased if she agrees to spy for the bluecoats. However, that may possibly mean betraying a former friend, for whom she has recently rekindled their relationship. Also, as the tension heats up between the two groups, Lyla begins to suspect that the man who promised to help her may not have her best interests at heart. Comes with illustrations and comics (called broadsheets and zines in the book).

Thoughts: This seemed like a fairly original take on the young adult dystopia theme, though there were a few places where I didn't fully understand the premises behind the world/plot. However, I give the author full credit for not making her heroine a "Mary Sue," or the only character in the book that can save the world, and for not trying to re-create the Hunger Games. Though there's some beautiful descriptive writing at the beginning, I found the book lost focus once it moved away from the school setting. By the end, I had lost track of who was mad at who and for why, but perhaps teens will enjoy it more.


Little White Lies
Little White Lies
by Brianna Baker
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $12.73

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Has lots of potential but falls short, January 17, 2016
This review is from: Little White Lies (Hardcover)
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"Little White Lies," is the name of the African-American main character, seventeen-year-old Coretta White's blog which quickly becomes a social media sensation, earning her not just teen followers on Twitter, etc. but their parents, as well. Although she is an overachiever, Coretta is still modestly surprised at the reaction she gets when she begins to discuss issues like racism when writing about trendy topics like Kanye and Beyoncé. However, (this is revealed in the first few pages), she eventually becomes overwhelmed with her extracurriculars, and through her friend, Rachel, hires a ghostwriter for her blog: a fortysomething white guy named Karl, who does things like that for a living. She also attracts the attention of the brother and sister pair of philanthropists, who decide that Coretta should parlay her social media presence into a new reality show they will produce. From there, the book proceeds with a set of Mad-Lib plot twists that end with the good guys triumphing over the bad ones. The first person narrative alternates between Coretta and Karl. The book uses blog posts, tweets, texts, etc. to tell the story and ends with cultural reference indexes to assist the temporarily unhip.

Thoughts: The heroine starts out with an appealing spunky voice, but eventually seems to fade in importance as the book progresses. The end seems mostly about what Karl learned from the experience, when I would imagine the target audience would want more about Coretta's conclusions. There was some preachiness at the end, in my opinion, though all the topics raised in the book are important and deserve discussion.

The pacing felt very rushed in places. I'd like to give examples, but don't want to give away more of the plot than I have already.

The plot was undeniably original. I've read YA novels about social media and reality shows but none quite like this.

Overall, I think this was a case of the authors' reach exceeding their grasp. But maybe teens will like this better than me.


Thicker Than Water
Thicker Than Water
by Kelly Fiore
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $12.64
49 used & new from $7.31

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing read, January 14, 2016
This review is from: Thicker Than Water (Hardcover)
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When CeCe Price phones 911, she tells the dispatcher that a) her older brother, Cyrus, is dead of an drug overdose, and b) she's the one who killed him. After she is taken into custody, CeCe's lawyer manages to get her placed in a behavioral therapy program at a juvenile correctional facility while she waits for her trial to begin. Though a couple of the other participants make overtures, including a cute guy her age, CeCe is too upset to reciprocate at least at first. She's also reluctant to cooperate with her therapist, despite being told that her actions will be important in deciding her case. However, CeCe agrees to try some of the exercises, including visualization and journaling, even though she's skeptical that they will help (you can see where this is going). Through flashbacks and therapy, we learn of the events leading up to the tragedy, as Cyrus, a former star soccer player, who began taking addictive painkillers after being injured, becomes an OxyContin addict. CeCe, a self-described "science nerd," who is hoping for a college scholarship for next year, is disgusted at his behavior, especially after her father remains in denial. Her family's financial circumstances go from bad to dire, and the prospect of her attending college starts to look impossible. Since her mother died of cancer several years ago, the family relationships have become strained, and this only makes things worse. But despite CeCe's burden of guilt, she may not be entirely responsible for Cyrus's death after all.

Noticing that the book's dedication was to the author's brother, I naturally wondered, and the afterword reveals that yes, unlike "Cyrus," the real-life inspiration did overcome his problem. "Thicker Than Water," does a good job of showing how the process of addiction is due to a number of inter-weaving factors (such as pill pushing doctors), and how insidiously it can destroy a well-meaning family. While CeCe's behavior may be off-putting at the start, her ultimate decision to take responsibility for her actions and move on is admirable. No sugar-coating or easy answers here, but a genuinely bleak look at addiction.


Missing Pieces
Missing Pieces
by Heather Gudenkauf
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.38
43 used & new from $8.50

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The husband she never knew, January 11, 2016
This review is from: Missing Pieces (Hardcover)
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Like most long-married spouses, Sarah Quinlan assumes she knows all of her husband's, Jack's, past secrets. However, when the couple receives news that Jack's aunt Julia has had a severe fall and is currently in the hospital, things begin to change for the worst. Sarah has always believed that Jack and his younger sister, Amy, were taken in by their aunt and uncle after their parents were killed in a car crash, but as another death unsettles Jack's hometown, Penny Gate and brings up sordid memories, she's no longer sure what version of the truth to believe. With Amy and Jack suddenly under suspicion by the local sheriff, and using her journalistic skills, Sarah must do some sleuthing of her own to piece the mystery together. There's no shortage of possible candidates for the killer including Dean, Jack's cousin and his wife Celia; Jack's Uncle Hal; Jack's estranged father who has been missing for years; and even the sheriff (who is suspiciously quick to accuse Jack) himself. With the help of a new friend who works in the sheriff's office and who is familiar with the community, Sarah tries to figure out what really happened to Jack's mother, as well as Julia. But as she narrows down the list of suspects, she begins receiving ominous emails and loses her faith that her husband isn't involved in anything sinister.

This book definitely lived up to its description of being a compelling page turner. It kept me evaluating and reevaluating "whodunit" until almost the very last page. Unlike a lot of mysteries, the narrative was limited to one character in the third person, which was a nice change from all the books that flip you in and out of all the character's heads without any discernible pattern. However, I wished there was more character development for some of the other main characters, especially Amy, as she seems to be one of the few who isn't shy about acknowledging the past. Overall, however, I enjoyed the mystery.


Wink Poppy Midnight
Wink Poppy Midnight
by April Genevieve Tucholke
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $12.53

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting and well-written, January 10, 2016
This review is from: Wink Poppy Midnight (Hardcover)
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Wink is a quirky, wholesome-seeming teen with a passion for reading fantasy, who lives on a farm with her younger siblings and hippie, fortune-telling mom. Midnight, who has recently moved next door to Wink with his father, has just been left behind when his mother and older brother move to France. Poppy is the Queen Bee of their adolescent community, a strong-willed girl on whom Midnight has a crush, and who once had a crush on Wink's older brother, Leaf, who isn't impressed by her at all. Because every queen needs an entourage, Poppy has created an inner circle called the Yellows, who are not quite your standard issue bullies (but who don't receive a lot of character development either). The book alternates between these three viewpoints, as a tale of revenge, magic, friendship and romance unfolds.

The book has several twists, which play with the idea that in one story there should be only one hero, one villain, etc. Characters who you take to be the traditional hero/villain/accomplice etc. turn out not to be quite what they first appear. The reader's perspective on who the two collaborators are of the main drama: a prank that goes drastically wrong, and who is the real victim will likely shift by the end of the book. In keeping with the author's philosophy, the end may also hold multiple surprises.

Once I got past the quirky names (it appears everyone in the book has hippie parents, not just Wink), I enjoyed the magic realism of the story. Because the main characters are all very much teens in their tendencies toward jealousy, spite and sexual attraction, it did seem odd to have the social media aspect that you would expect completely deleted from the story, but it worked okay. (Example: It was plausible that a run-down farmhouse would have a rotary phone.) I did get a bit tired of Wink's constant references to (what I assume are) mostly made up fantasy titles, but overall, I'd recommend this book to readers who like magic realism and want a break from issue-of-the-week type young adult books.


The Quality of Silence: A Novel
The Quality of Silence: A Novel
by Rosamund Lupton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.09

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The road trip from hell, January 4, 2016
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Yasmin is a British woman who has just arrived in Alaska to meet her husband, who was away filming a wildlife documentary, only to hear the news that everyone living in the place where he was has been killed. Not only that, but it looks like the fire may have been arson, in response to an oil company deciding to frack there. But Yasmin is convinced that her husband is still alive, against all odds, and takes her deaf ten-year-old daughter, Ruby on a hazardous trip to find out. How hazardous? Well, she hijacks a rig with a synthetic house on top, and heads out in a blizzard with sub-zero temperatures that even experienced truckers refuse to drive in. Not only that, but she's got a phantom stalker on her trail. Yasmin has never done any of this before and has no clue what she's doing, but she's going to do it anyway, even if she and her child both die from hypothermia. Did I mention all this is taking place in Alaska, where there are avalanches and wolves? But - they've got a laptop. With satellite access.

Thoughts: The author lives in London, but I thought Yasmin and Ruby only sounded authentically "British" at the beginning of the book, and then as it went on, more generic like they could have been from anywhere. Ruby's slang sounded more American to me; she used very few of the expressions I think of as standard for a British kid.

The narrative is first person present for Ruby, but third person past for Yasmin and the assorted other adult characters. Often the viewpoint switches after a paragraph or so. This makes for a choppy feel, at least at first.

Ruby sometimes sounds four, other times like a middle-aged adult who is gifted with prose. The slang seemed stuck in occasionally and felt forced, especially when she's expressing herself so poetically on Twitter.

The author explains everything in case the reader might not get it, including motives and metaphors.

This is nitpicking, but I got really tired of reading the word "juddered." I think the book could have benefited from more editing. However, the plot was original, and the author did a good job of portraying the bleak, often dangerous setting. I had to go turn up the heat while I was reading.


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