Time’s Edge by Rysa Walker

Time's Edge (The CHRONOS Files, #2)Time’s Edge by Rysa Walker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a review of an ARC from NetGalley 3.5 stars

Time’s Edge is the second book in Rysa Walker’s Chronos Files series. It’s definitely NOT a stand-alone novel, those who have not read the first book in the series (Time Bound) will be very confused. The story is thus: Kate may look like an ordinary DC teen, who lives with her father and grandmother, but she’s really part of a family of time-travelers. In the future, the Chronos organization uses time-travel to send historians into the past to study and research. But one of those historians, Kate’s grandfather Saul (yes, grandfather. Time travel, remember?), has turned evil, destroying the Chronos facility and using time travel to create a powerful cult with himself and Kate’s aunt Prudence as its leaders, and planning for a future world-wide “culling,” that only he and his followers will survive.

The first novel dealt with Kate learning about Chronos and her place in this time-travel set-up. In Time’s Edge, Kate is fully on board fighting Saul and his followers, the Cyrists. She’s tasked with hopping back in time to the 24 historians who were stranded when Saul destroyed the home base, breaking the news to them that they are stuck in whatever past they were researching, and getting their time travel keys before Saul and the Cyrists can get ahold of them.

Kate’s also dealing with the emotional fallout from some time shifts, as the Cyrist cult changes the past to give themselves more power. While Kate and other travelers can remember these changes, they don’t always know the new bits of history. Sometimes that means Kate has to study extra hard in school (because the way she remembers history is not the way her teacher does). But other times it means friends and loved ones suddenly don’t know who you are. This comes through in Kate’s relationships with two boys – Trey, her boyfriend from a changed past who no longer remembers what they meant to each other, and Kiernan, former Cyrist who has turned on the cult, and can also use the Chronos keys. In his past, Kate was much more than a fellow Cyrist-fighter, and Kate is torn between the boy she loves who can’t remember her, and a boy who loves her that she can’t remember.

While the jumps and twists in time can be confusing, the novel is fast-paced and keeps you interested, even if I confess I wasn’t always exactly sure how the time-travel bits were working. The jumps to the past allow Walker to include historical details and research that make it more grounded – it’s sci-fi, but it’s taking place in a real world, with characters who (in some cases) actually lived. Walker has done her homework, the jumps to the past include real people and places, and her attention to detail makes it come alive. In this case, Kate’s in 1930s Georgia, as the Cyrists try to take over a small church and test out their culling plan. (Although a plot about the future historians running into a real-world lynching did seem to be a major plot hole – these people pay extreme attention to detail, down to prohibiting travelers from bringing a toothbrush back in time, but no one foresaw any problems with a biracial married couple with Northern accents blending into rural Georgia in 1938?)

That aside, the book was a page-turner. While there’s not a lot of character development, Walker’s ability to move the plot along has me waiting eagerly for the next installment.

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The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

The GoldfinchThe Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I realize that I write this mediocre review at my peril. I have changed my rating from 3 to 4 to 3 stars within the past half hour. My gut says 3 stars, but my professional pride says 4. After all, how could I not fully appreciate a Pulitzer Prize winner? Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch is clearly a polarizing read, and of course my fear is that those who love it are the true literary intellectuals, and those who hate it are the Bourgeoisie. At three stars I’ve planted myself firmly in the middle, which is perhaps about right. Yes, I appreciate Tartt’s descriptive genius, her knack for conveying her narrator’s state of mind by using language to alter the reader’s own consciousness, and her homage to the power of art over humanity. I was truly sucked into the novel with horror as its young teen protagonist Theo loses his mother and ultimately the promise of a normal life when the pair are victims of a terrorist bombing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Theo starts out as such a sympathetic, vulnerable character. And now for the but. You knew there was one. A big but. But why did she have to take so very long, and use so very many words and lists (endless lists) to painstakingly describe every ruinous moment from that time until the disappointing conclusion some 700+ pages later? Why didn’t she allow an editor to save her from herself? Yes, she is the master of description, but she does the book a serious disservice by laboring over every minute, distracting detail, as though she kept thinking of a better turn of phrase, each more brilliant than the previous, but also completely superfluous to the plot. The other damning element in my mind was the lack of sympathetic characters. Theo’s path, though not fully of his own making and not necessarily surprising given his traumatic childhood, is just plain depressing. Long and depressing. The story has moments of suspense and intrigue, as well as truly insightful observations about art, life and humanity, but none of this was enough enough to outweigh its pervasive dreary, sluggishness. Mostly, I found this book a slog punctuated with flashes of startlingly beautiful prose. Can you tell how conflicted I still am about this book? ~ Ms Dimmick

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The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros

The House on Mango StreetThe House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The House on Mango Street isn’t a novel, nor is it really a collection of short stories because none of the chapters are full-fledged stories. Instead it is described as a series of “vignettes” or short scenes drawn from the memory of a Mexican-American childhood in Chicago. To me it felt more like a thematic collection of poems. The lyrical writing and raw emotion that it evokes affects the reader in much the same way as poetry. Sandra Cisneros’ vignettes illustrate the coming-of-age of a gifted and sensitive artist in a way that will stay with me forever. This is a really short, beautiful read with the staying power to earn it “classic” status in the canon of Hispanic American literature ~ Ms Dimmick

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Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline

Orphan TrainOrphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Available as a free ebook from NSHS Library. Orphan Train is a perfect blend of historical and contemporary realistic fiction–just the thing to hook newcomers to the historical genre. The hook: Molly Ayer will turn 18 in a few months and age out of the child welfare system in coastal Maine where she needs to find a community service project to save her from eviction from her foster home and banishment to juvie. Vivian Daly is 91 and wants help sorting through her life’s memories stored in the attic of her grand home in Molly’s community. A seemingly unlikely friendship is formed as Molly helps Vivian in more ways than she ever imagined, and finds confidence and purpose in the process. The history: Vivian’s tale is told through flashbacks to the 1920s through the 40s, beginning with being orphaned as a young immigrant in New York City and being sent West on an Orphan Train in hopes of being adopted by a loving family. The reality of the fate of the orphan train passengers is something far less rosy. The story is engrossing, and the parallels between the two protagonists’ lives help to bridge the historical to the contemporary for readers who would otherwise stear clear of the historical genre. The writing is solid but not noteworthy; this is an enjoyable, enlightening story, not high literature. ~ Ms Dimmick

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The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, by Wes Moore

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two FatesThe Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Other Wes Moore has a tantalizing premise: the lives of two boys with the same name and seemingly parallel backgrounds as fatherless African Americans being raised in crime-ridden inner-city Baltimore diverge dramatically in adulthood. One adult Wes is in prison for murder while the other is a Rhodes Scholar, White House Fellow and Wall Street Insider. How did one succeed so brilliantly while the other crashed and burned? What can we learn about Wes the author’s fate that we can apply to future Wes’s so that none of them end up in prison? Unfortunately the author doesn’t provide such a recipe, so the reader is forced to examine the facts of each life and draw his or her own conclusions. Such close examination, however, reveals that the parallels between the two Wes’s lives are superficial at best. This is not a case of, “there but for the grace of God go I,” despite what the author posits. This is an example of the powerful role that an educated, loving, mother and extended family, not to mention valuable connections, can play in ensuring that a child grows to be a responsible, respectable adult. The other Wes had none of that. Nonetheless, the book provides an important window into life in drug-infested inner-city Baltimore and how hopeless it can feel to be or to raise a child alone in this hostile environment. I admit to being a little ruffled at the author’s self-congratulatory tone, and wondered more than once whether he force-fit his alter-ego’s story into his own as a means to tell the world how successful he’s become. Read it and judge for yourself, which is precisely what Wes Moore hopes you will do. ~ Ms Dimmick

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The Language Inside, by Holly Thompson

The Language InsideThe Language Inside by Holly Thompson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am slowly being converted to stories told in verse by authors like Holly Thompson and Ellen Hopkins. They use this expressive medium to take the reader inside the minds and emotions of the narrator in ways that prose can never quite achieve. I say this as a very reluctant reader of poetry, so don’t rule this book out if you don’t think you like poetry. It’s a novel, just written a simple and beautiful form. 16 year-old Emma is technically American, but has been raised from birth in Japan and is culturally Japanese, despite her Caucasian appearance. In a tragic confluence of events, the earthquake and tsunami of 2011 strikes and devastates neighboring communities and Emma’s friends’ families at the same time as Emma’s mother is diagnosed with breast cancer that requires treatment in the United States. Emma is torn from her friends and her country just when they need her most, but is forced to quell her misery in order to stay strong for her mother who also needs Emma most. She moves with her family to her grandparents’ home outside of Lowell, MA where Emma enrolls in high school and struggles to fit in, biding time until she can return home to Japan. Slowly, Emma engages with her community by joining the school dance troupe, volunteering to help a stroke victim write poetry at a local rehabilitation center, and befriending Samnamg, a handsome second generation Cambodian immigrant who also volunteers at the center. Just when Emma and Samnang are on the verge of Emma’s first real romantic relationship, Emma’s parents offer her the opportunity to return to Japan with her father while her mother stays in Massachusetts for many more months of recuperation. Should she go? Read this book to learn more about the 2011 tsunami, Pol Pot’s genocidal regime in Cambodia, breast cancer treatment, traditional Cambodian and Japanese dance, and of course whether Emma leaves Samnang to return home to Japan. ~ Ms. Dimmick

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Bittersweet, by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

BittersweetBittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I found this book to be an utter disappointment. It held such promise for a summer read: set on a charming family compound on Lake Champlain in Vermont, young, wealthy, beautiful characters with a dark family secret and a plucky outsider protagonist who yearns to belong to this exotic and tantalizing world. Oh, and of course, romance. Unfortunately the book was contrived, not credible, and forced. It relied on the standard “rich are evil” trope. There was far too much emphasis on predictable description and no depth to the characters. The mystery was the only thing that kept me going and even that was disappointing. ~ Ms Dimmick

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Robots and Empire, by Isaac Asimov

Robots and Empire (Robot, #4)Robots and Empire by Isaac Asimov

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am on a quest to read Asimov’s Robot and Foundation books in order. The chronology is the author’s, using events that start (leaving aside the beginning of Pebble in the Sky) many thousands of years in the future and build roughly sequentially. Asimov wrote these books wildly out of this order, which makes the experience all the more fun. He wrote Robots and Empire, for example, thirty years after The Currents Of Space, a book that in the author’s chronology follows Robots and Empire by many centuries. Like I said, fun. Robots and Empire is set some 200 years after the close of events in The Robots of Dawn. The morose detective Elijah Baley is no longer with us, but his memory and methods linger in his robot partner, R. Daneel Olivaw, and his twice requited love Gladia Solaria, of the long-lived and robot-dependent Spacers. Baley’s legacy as a hero for the rival Settlers shows his role in lighting the first spark of the movement that ultimately becomes the Galactic Empire in later novels. Of course, I had no clue of all this import years ago when I read many of these books scattershot. It is only in the context of ‘order’ that the author’s ambition becomes clear. Robots and Empire is simultaneously a mystery (solving an epic crime before it is committed), political intrigue, social commentary, and, in the interaction between the robots R. Daneel and Giskard, a fascinating, moving exploration of sentience that pushes one’s definition of humanity. The interweaving threads of this plot, culminating in the tapestry of humanity described by Giskard as he imagines psychohistory, sets imagination soaring. An inspiring read. A final note. Robots and Empire is so long out of print that only one library out of dozens in nearby towns actually had a tattered copy. This is a loss for thinking readers – this book should be made available as an ebook, if not put back in to print. A classic. ~ Guest Reviewer: Mr. Dimmick

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Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

AfterworldsAfterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wanted to like this one, and it almost succeeds for me. Westerfeld is telling two stories – one is the tale of 17-year-old Darcy Patel, who has written a book, gotten an agent, and postponed college to go off to New York and write. Interspersed with this we get Darcy’s novel, titled Afterworlds, which tells the story of Lizzie, who survives a terrorist attack by slipping into the world of the dead, and emerges with the power to see ghosts and talk to a Hindu god of the dead.

I love stories within stories, I like YA literature and paranormal romance, but this just did not work for me. Lizzie’s story was definitely more engaging for me, and watching it be shaped as Darcy rewrites and revises was interesting. But the framing story fell short. Darcy is a total Mary Sue – a too-perfect stand-in for the reader who magically gets an agent, a publishing deal, an enormous advance, a huge and affordable apartment in New York, a perfect girlfriend, an invitation to join a famous author on a book tour — it’s all too good to be true and so grating. The literary characters she is surrounded by are pretentious and patronizing. Her problems are all magically solved (or just ignored – Westerfeld never really resolves the fact that she’s living far beyond her means and will basically run out of money five minutes after the book ends).

And one more oddity – another review I read pointed out that Darcy’s friends are all going on about how wonderful her writing is, and how amazing her book is, which is basically Westerfeld just complimenting himself. And once you realize that, it just glares out at you. Did he do this on purpose? Is it supposed to be funny? I don’t know, but it just didn’t work for me.

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Noggin by John Corey Whaley

NogginNoggin by John Corey Whaley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Noggin starts out with a crazy sci-fi premise: Travis Coates, a 16-year-old boy dying of cancer, has his head cut off and frozen in the hopes that one day, there will be a cure. Most people think this was just his way out of, but it actually happens, and Travis comes back – his head attached to a new (taller and stronger!) body.

While for Travis, it’s only been a long nap since he last saw his friends and family, for them it’s been five years, and they have to adjust from mourning Travis to celebrating the “miracle.” And while Travis’ birth certificate might say he’s 21, he’s still a high school student, only now he doesn’t know anyone in his class. Some things haven’t changed – he has to retake his math class for one. But other things will never be the same. His father is never home, working crazy hours that may be a cover for something else. His best friend, who shared his deepest secret when he thought Travis was dying, is now wishing that secret had stayed dead. And his girlfriend Cate, whom Travis truly loved, has fallen in love – and gotten engaged – to someone new.

While the premise is pure science fiction, this story is really about a regular boy in a regular high school, and how he copes with love and loss. It’s authentic and funny and made me cry, and I’m eagerly waiting to see what Whaley comes up with next.

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