Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Doomsday Equation by Matt Richtel

  • ISBN-10: 0062201182 - Paperback $14
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (February 24, 2015), 384 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

The blurb:
Jeremy Stillwater is a genius with computers but not so much with people.  Maddeningly self-righteous, he's alienated his girlfriend and infuriated his Silicon Valley financiers and the government agents who saw military promise in his innovation: a program that seemed to be able to predict war.

Even Jeremy has begun to doubt the algorithm's capabilities. Then one day his computer has a message for him.  War is coming. Three days and counting until massive nuclear conflict.  

Is it real? A malicious joke? A bug?

Isolated yet relentless, Jeremy soon uncovers an ancient conspiracy of unspeakable danger.  And it will take every bit of Jeremy's stubborn ingenuity to survive another minute, let alone save the world.

In The Doomsday Equation, Matt Richtel gives us an unusual techno thriller with genius Jeremy Stillwater as the tech whiz kid who has developed algorithm that uses close to 300 metrics to compute the likelihood of the occurrence of war. The algorithm factor in widely disparate variables, including inflammatory rhetoric from politicians, the weather (invasions more often begin with clear weather), changes in the cost/price of oil and other mineral resources, etc. While the concept is brilliant, as we get to know Jeremy, his single minded dedication and aggressive nature comes across clearly but also portrays an annoying, whiny, entitled tech entrepreneur. Jeremy's default mode is rude, aggressive, and slightly paranoid. As he interacts with women, objectifying them, dismissing them, I skimmed over passages. While the plot and conflict are engrossing, I took away one star because of Jeremy and his antics.

About the Author:
Jeremy Richtel is a Pulitzer Prize-winning technology reporter for the New York Times.  He is the author of A Deadly Wandering and the novels The Cloud and Devil's Plaything.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Nightbird by Alice Hoffman

  • Age Range: 10 and up 
  • Grade Level: 5 and up
  • ISBN-10: 0385389582 - Hardcover $16.99
  • Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books (March 10, 2015), 206 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher.

The blurb:
Twig lives in Sidwell, where people whisper that fairy tales are real. After all, her town is rumored to hide a monster. And two hundred years ago, a witch placed a curse on Twig’s family that was meant to last forever. But this summer, everything will change when the red moon rises. It’s time to break the spell.

Nightbird starts off as the story of Teresa, nicknamed Twig,
who believes herself to be as inconsequential and forgettable 
as a twig. She's got a lively imagination, a big heart, and pluck. 
But she's been told to keep her light hidden, not to make friends, 
to stay apart from the other children. Her mother doesn't let her 
socialise and doesn't allow any of the neighbours to visit. It's 
largely because of a curse that was put on their family hundreds 
of years ago by the Sidwell witch. This curse and avoiding further 
damage has ruled the lives of Twig and her family members.

When a young family moves in next door, Twig finally finds a
friend of her own. It changes everything for her but she's
terrified of disappointing her mother and impact of the curse.
She tries to avoid her new friend and it's heartbreaking to
read her loneliness - the new friendship brings so much
to the story.

There's strange graffiti, a possible curse and witch, a
possible monster all mixed in with the young folks in a
small town in the Berkshires. Friendship, finding one's
way, and growing into one's self are all key themes in 
this delightful book.

About the Author:
Alice Hoffman, an American novelist and screenwriter, 
was born in New York City on March 16, 1952. She 
earned a B.A. from Adelphi University in 1973 and an M.A.
in creative writing from Stanford University in 1975 before 
publishing her first novel, Property Of, in 1977. Known for 
blending realism and fantasy in her fiction, she often 
creates richly detailed characters who live on society's 
margins and places them in extraordinary situations as she 
did with At Risk, her 1988 novel about the AIDS crisis. Her 
other works include The Drowning Season, Seventh Heaven, 
The River King, Blue Diary, The Probable Future, The Ice 
Queen, and The Dovekeepers. Her book, The Third Angel, 
won the 2008 New England Booksellers' Award for fiction. 
Two of her novels, Practical Magic and Aquamarine, were m
ade into films. She has also written numerous screenplays, 
including adaptations of her own novels and the original 
screenplay, Independence Day. In 2014 her title, The 
Museum of Exteaordinary Things made The New York 
Times Best Seller List.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Will Starling by Ian Weir

  • ISBN-10: 1586422308 - Paperback $17.00
  • Publisher: Steerforth (February 3, 2015), 480 pages. 
  • Review copy courtesy of Netgalley and the publisher.

The blurb:
The Reckoning of WM. Starling, Esq. a Foundling, concerning Monstrous Crimes and Infernal Aspirations, with Perpetrators Named and Shrouded Infamies disclosed to Light of Day, as set down by his Own Hand in this year 1816.

London, 1816. The Napoleonic War is over, Romanticism is at its high tide, and the great city is charged with the thrill of scientific discovery and Regency abandon. The nineteen-year-old foundling Will Starling returns from teh Continent, having spent five years assisting military surgeon Alec Comrie, and now is helping Comrie build a civilian practice in London's rough Cripplegate area. This means entering into an uneasy alliance with the Doomsday Men: graverobbers who supply surgeons with cadavers for dissection.  There are wild rumors about Dionysus Atherton, an old university friend of Comrie's and the brightest of London's emerging surbical stars, whispers of experiments on corpses not quite dead, in a bid to unlock the mystery of death itself.  Will owrks obsessively to ferret out the truth; the investigation twists and turns through brothels and charnel houses and the mansions of Mayfair.

Will Starling is set in the years after the Napoleonic War during a time when Doomsday men rob graves to help the surgeons and medical schools find cadavers with which to further their learning. Our lead character and narrator comes across clearly, with a strong character and powerful voice and the disadvantages of poverty, ugliness, and having been raised an orphan. He's both street smart and quite sharp, he's learned to live by his wits and is quite fond of large words and pretty turns of phrase. He's not shy about pushing himself forward and keeps his eye out for an opportunity. He apprentices to a surgeon and travels in the underworld, this leads him to discover the possible shady tactics of other surgeons and an illicit attempt to raise the dead.

The writing and language is sharp and distinct. Will Starling is an unusual lead character and for those who enter his world, someone hard to forget.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Defy by Sara Larson

  • ISBN-10: 0545695465 - Paperback $9.99
  • Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks; Reprint edition (November 25, 2014), 336 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher.

The blurb:
Alexa Hollen is a fighter. Forced to disguise herself as a boy and serve in the king's army, Alex uses her quick wit and fierce sword-fighting skills to earn a spot on the elite prince's guard. But when a powerful sorcerer sneaks into the palace in the dead of night, even Alex, who is virtually unbeatable, can't prevent him from abducting her, her fellow guard and friend Rylan, and Prince Damian, taking them through the treacherous wilds of the jungle and deep into enemy territory.

The longer Alex is held captive with both Rylan and the prince, the more she realizes that she is not the only one who has been keeping dangerous secrets. And suddenly, after her own secret is revealed, Alex finds herself confronted with two men vying for her heart: the safe and steady Rylan, who has always cared for her, and the dark, intriguing Damian. With hidden foes lurking around every corner, is Alex strong enough to save herself and the kingdom she's sworn to protect?

Defy introduces us to a brave, proud warrior who is forced to hide her true identity for her own safety.  She's proved her fighting ability and won a position among the Prince's Guard and is known to be one of the best swords person in the kingdom.  

Unfortunately, the Kingdom is suffering great upheaval and considerable uncertainty as the King becomes progressively more despotic as he forces young women into brothels and arrests those with magical powers. The King is aided by a dangerous advisor with magical abilities.

When the Prince is kidnapped by the rebels, our heroine Alexa, is taken with him. She learns that the Prince is working with the rebels against his father, with the purpose of ridding the Kingdom of inequality and to allow magic to be accepted and used.  In order to survive and to help her Prince, Alexa must learn to use her skills and develop whatever magic she might have - and to return to the Kingdom, use her new skills for the young Prince.  

Defy is a fun, witty, adventure story - a real delight!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Red Queen by Victoria Avelard

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard 
  • ISBN-10: 0062310631 - Hardcover $ 17.99
  • HarperTeen (February 10, 2015), 400 pages. 
  • Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program

The blurb:
Mare Barrow's world is divided by blood—those with red and those with silver. Mare and her family are lowly Reds, destined to serve the Silver elite whose supernatural abilities make them nearly gods. Mare steals what she can to help her family survive, but when her best friend is conscripted into the army she gambles everything to win his freedom. A twist of fate leads her to the royal palace itself, where, in front of the king and all his nobles, she discovers a power of her own—an ability she didn't know she had. Except . . . her blood is Red.
To hide this impossibility, the king forces her into the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks her new position to aid the Scarlet Guard—the leaders of a Red rebellion. Her actions put into motion a deadly and violent dance, pitting prince against prince—and Mare against her own heart.
From debut author Victoria Aveyard comes a lush, vivid fantasy series where loyalty and desire can tear you apart and the only certainty is betrayal.

I'd been drawn to Red Queen largely because it was described as similar to "Graceling" and while the lead character, Mare, does have special skills that are both unexpected and not immediately apparent, Red Queen doesn't deliver the same level of excitement or wonder.

In Red Queen, there are two main classes, the silver blooded and the red blooded.  The Silvers have power and wealth and each Silver has one special power.  The special powers enable them to draw upon their physical world and to perform amazing feats.  The Reds lack this magical ability and are removed from power as well as riches.  Mare is a Red who holds a unique power and to maintain the social order, those in power decide that Mare should be disguised as a Silver to shield the truth that a Red can wield magical power as well.  Mare's power is so great that the King betroths her to his son, the Prince, to maintain this fiction and co-opt her.

Mare is brought in with young Silvers to train and learn how to master her powers.  There's plenty of young romance brewing but I found that I didn't care about Mare.  While Red Queen has the building blocks of a strong adventure story, I had hoped for more.

About the Author:
Victoria Aveyard recently graduated from USC, where she majored in screenwriting. She has sold several television pilots and feature-length screenplays, and is currently represented by the Hollywood management company Benderspink. Red Queen is her first novel. She lives in Los Angeles, and you can visit her online at

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Fear in the Sunlight: A New Mystery featuring Josephine Tey and Alfred Hitchcock by Nicola Upson

Fear in the Sunlight: A New Mystery featuring Josephine Tey 
and Alfred Hitchcock by Nicola Upson
ISBN-10: 0062195433 - Paperback $14.99
Harper Paperbacks; Reprint edition (April 9, 2013), 432 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

The blurb:
Summer 1936.  Mystery writer Josephine They joins her friends in the resort village of Portmeirion, Wales to celebrate her fortieth birthday.  Alfred Hitchcock and his wife, Alma Reville, are there to sign a deal to film Josephine's novel, A Shilling for Candles.  But things get out of hand when one of Hollywood's leading actresses is brutally slashed to death in a cemetery near the village.  The following day, as fear and suspicion take over in a setting where nothing and none is quite what it seems, Chief Inspector Archie Penrose becomes increasingly unsatisfied with the way the investigation is ultimately resolved.  Several years later, another horrific murder, again linked to a Hitchcock movie, drives Penrose back to the scene of the original crime to uncover the shocking truth.

While Fear in Sunlight is the most recent Josephine Tey mystery by Nicola Upson, it isn't necessary to have read the earlier novels in the series to be drawn to the characters and her lead detective,  Detective Chief Inspector Archie Penrose.   We quickly learn that Josephine Tey and DCI Penrose have a complicated history linked in part to World War I, but the Great War has left its mark on most everyone in Great Britain.

Fear in Sunlight takes us back to the days when Alfred Hitchcock and his wife Alma have brought together Josephine Tey and several actors with the intent of producing Tey's A Shilling for Candles into a Hitchcock film.  But as Hitchcock has a penchant for cruel jokes of sorts, he's arranged an elaborate prank that goes awry.  Two deaths and a suicide later, DCI Penrose must try to make sense of the violence and to parse through the many levels of deception.

Engaging, well crafted, and beautifully written, Fear in Sunlight is a treat for those who love a fun British mystery and have a particular fondness for Josephine Tey.  I've ordered the first book in the series and plan to go through them all.

About the Author:
Nicola Upson has written for a variety of publications, including the Nw Statesman, where she was a crime fiction critic.  She also regularly contributes to BBC radio and has worked in the theater for ten years.  She divides her time between Cambridge and Cornwall.  Learn more about her at

Friday, December 19, 2014

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers

  • ISBN-10: 0547628382 - Hardcover $17.99
  • Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers; First Edition edition (April 2, 2013), 400 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of Netgalley and the publisher.

The blurb:
Sybella's duty as Death's assassin in 15th-century France forces 
her return home to the personal hell that she had finally escaped. 
Love and romance, history and magic, vengeance and salvation 
converge in this thrilling sequel to Grave Mercy.
Sybella arrives at the convent’s doorstep half mad with grief 
and despair. Those that serve Death are only too happy to 
offer her refuge—but at a price. The convent views Sybella, 
naturally skilled in the arts of both death and seduction, as 
one of their most dangerous weapons. But those assassin's 
skills are little comfort when the convent returns her to a life 
that nearly drove her mad. And while Sybella is a weapon of 
justice wrought by the god of Death himself, He must give 
her a reason to live. When she discovers an unexpected ally 
imprisoned in the dungeons, will a daughter of Death find 
something other than vengeance to live for?

Dark Triumph continues the series begun with Grave Mercy and introduces us
to a new assassin, Sybella. Sybella comes from an aristocratic family but her
father is dangerous, unstable, and one of the most powerful men in the Kingdom.
He's also just as likely to harm her as to help her. 

The convent has given her the skills to work against him and his men, but it has 
also required her to return to the lion's den, supposedly to serve the god of Death.
She's given little assistance as she takes on one of the most dangerous assignments
possible.  She digs deep into herself and must find a way to make alliances, perhaps
draw strength and help from her old friends in the convent. Her goal is to save the 
innocent, even if she sacrifices herself in the process.

Fortunately, Sybella remembers her own strength and doesn't sacrifice herself
unnecessarily.  Her wit and strength make her one of the more likeable heroines
in a long time - and I'm looking forward to finding her in subsequent books by
Robin LaFevers.

About the Author:
Robin LaFevers was raised on a steady diet of fairy tales, 
Bulfinch's Mythology, and nineteenth-century poetry. It is not 
surprising that she grew up to be a hopeless romantic. She 
was lucky enough to find her one true love, and is living 
happily ever after with him in the foothills of Southern 
California. Visit her website at