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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Historical Novels by Anne Perry and Jim Eldridge

Some NetGalley books scheduled to be released in 2016 

Revenge in a Cold River by Anne Perry.  I started reading Perry's historical mysteries some twenty years ago.  I enjoyed the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt novels first, but after reading The Face of a Stranger, the first William Monk novel, I was completely hooked.  

A little background (although I think each novel works well as a stand alone):  In 1856 William Monk was seriously injured in a carriage accident and has no memory of his life before the accident.  He has managed, with the help of the estimable Hester Latterly, to resume his career and to keep his lack of memory a secret from almost everyone.

In Revenge in a Cold River, Monk begins to realize that his nemesis--customs officer McNabb--has finally realized that Monk has no memory of events before 1856 and intends to destroy him.  Finally, the fans of this series discover why McNabb hates Monk and are given a glimpse of Monk's background as a young man.

As usual, Perry's period depictions are detailed, the suspense is palpable, and her characters flawed and imperfect, but often courageous.  Familiar characters populate the novel, and we learn more about Beata York, the woman Oliver Rathbone loves.  I've been curious about her and was happy to see Beata has more to offer. Hester takes a smaller role in Revenge, but her dedicated and independent nature is, as always, of primary support to Monk.  

I'm really not certain which books I like better--those that feature Monk or those that feature Hester.  Perry's switching the lead protagonist keeps the series interesting and allows her to focus on different elements of the Victorian period.

(Amazon is offering a bundle of the first three books in the series, and if you relish good Victorian novels--this is a bargain.)

NetGalley/Random House/Ballentine

Historic Mystery.  Sept. 6, 2016.  Print length:  320 pages.

Assassins by Jim Eldridge.  "The first of a new mystery series featuring Winston Churchill and King George V: an intriguing departure for bestselling children's author Jim Eldridge. "   

I enjoyed this first installment of a new series featuring DCI Paul Stark and set in the early 1920's.  Churchill, always controversial, is presented with both his flaws and his strengths, and I liked the way Stark's initial dislike of Churchill alters as the book progresses even as he continues to view him honestly.

Eldridge includes some of the most difficult issues faced by the British Government during the time:  debt, unemployment and the demobilization of soldiers following WWI, the problem of Irish Home Rule, women's suffrage (only women over 30 who owned property were given the vote in 1918, so the issue was still active), socialism, etc.   

The most interesting part for me, however, is the role played by secondary characters like Michael Collins.  I knew Collins was associated with Sinn Fein and the struggle for Irish Independence, but that was the extent of my knowledge.  Even though his role in the novel isn't large, his personality and appeal are obvious.  I wanted to know more and did some online research--Collins and Eamon de Valera are part of a fascinating era of history. (Now, I want to see the 1996 film Michael Collins with Liam Neeson and  Alan Rickman.) 

A good mystery and a series I will follow.

NetGalley/Severn House

Historic Mystery.  Oct. 1, 2016.  Print length:  256 pages.

I will mention both of these books again closer to publication.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

The Last One by Alexandra Oliva is a cross between a reality survivor show and a genuine catastrophe, a pandemic of which the contestants and even the crew in their isolation are unaware.  The illness is widespread and rapid, and people die so quickly that there is little apprehension or appreciation of the danger until the population is decimated.

Twelve contestants, who have been given short epithets connected to their careers (Doctor, Tracker, Waitress, Engineer, Zoo), have been chosen to participate in a reality show that will challenge them mentally and physically.  They are all secluded in a wilderness area and unaware of what is going on in the outside world.

The story alternates between the chapters about the challenges the contestants face and the POV of Zoo, a young woman who wants a last big challenge before she and her husband settle down to start a family.

There is unnecessary confusion about who the contestants are.  Zoo will refer to them sometimes by the reality show moniker and sometimes by their real names.  Eventually, some of the characters become clearer, but this uncertainty prevents a real connection to most of the contestants.

 Everything from the reasons the contestants have been chosen, the names assigned to them, the way the film is edited to present a particular point of view and "good television"(regardless of the context).  Incidents are scripted, staged, and amended.  In the meantime, Oliva does the same to her readers, keeping them off-balance.

Eventually, Zoo continues alone in what she believes is a solo challenge.  The stress of the various challenges, an illness she believes the result of polluted water, lack of food, and lack of rest have diminished her ability to reason well, but she refuses to say the words the producers gave the contestants that would signal her desire to quit.  She is determined to finish, and she keeps walking, using every skill at her disposal.  Any question she may have about the changes she sees, she attributes to the show's script, to props, to the theatrical exploitation of both contestants and audience.

An absorbing glimpse at the way we are manipulated by media (more obviously by reality shows--but only slightly more subtly by press, propaganda, and politics).  

A couple of things did bother me, but they would be spoilers, so I'll ignore them for this review.  

Review scheduled for June 27, 2016.

NetGalley/Random House/Ballentine

Suspense/Post-Apocalyptic.  July 12, 2016.  Print length:  304 pages.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson     

I finished this last week and have been mulling it over ever since.  

Fantasy is often set in an imaginary world, but fantasy consistently deals with themes that have troubled mankind from the dawn of civilization. Fantasy subgenres are plentiful, and I have enjoyed many of them, but the themes are pretty consistent and magic is usually an important element.

The author may not agree, but I think The Traitor Baru Cormorant is an allegory.  Not a religious allegory; Seth Dickinson will never be confused with C.S. Lewis. 

The Traitor Baru Cormorant is an allegorical look at civilization, nationalism, politics, and conquest.  Although set in a world that contains both medieval and modern elements, it mirrors so many aspects of history involving great and powerful nations--and not usually those elements that a nation can be proud of.

Conquest isn't always about marching in with enough military might to overwhelm a country.  It can begin as a soft conquest through trade.  Add changing the monetary basis. Then gradually add the dismantlement of a country's culture, tradition, religion, social and sexual mores, and commandeering the education of a nation's children.  A reinvention.  A political coup.  A grand eugenic experiment.

The Empire of Masks begins its conquest of Baru Cormorant's home of Taranoke in a manner in which they are entirely proficient.  The Mask begins softly with trade and a change of currency, the offer of better roads, sanitation, and medical practices, and then proceeds to demand that the population accedes to the Mask's economic, political, social, sexual, and moral attitudes. Through boarding schools, the Mask educates a new generation in their own image.

The force is not evident initially; it evolves gradually, but the velvet glove comes off when necessary in particularly brutal ways.   

The Traitor is about the economics of power and the power of economics.  It is about control, war strategy, and the price of rebellion.  

It is also about a woman who decides the only way to fight back, to escape the control--is to gain power by insinuating herself in the highest position possible and to destroy the system from within.  Just as the Mask has done to its conquered territories.

As a fantasy, The Traitor Baru Cormorant is excellent--great world-building, intriguing characters, and plenty of suspense, corruption, action, and betrayal.

But it is something more.  It calls upon us to examine ourselves, our personal views of the world, and the politics of our own nations, both past and present.  It takes so many of the issues faced today and turns them into fiction, but makes us contemplate contemporary problems at the same time.

The books is beautifully written and powerful.  My thanks to Althea Ann, who first engaged my interest in this book.


Fantasy?  2015.  Print version:  400 pages.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Louise Penny and David Lagercrantz Reviews

Last week my library visit yielded two books that I'd been waiting for.  :)

The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny was, of course, excellent!  I love the Three Pines series and can't get enough of the characters.  

The death of a nine-year-old boy who had a penchant for telling fantastic lies sets the plot in motion.  When the death is about to be written off as an accident, Armand Gamache insists on a closer look.

As usual, Penny writes beautifully and weaves her plot with consummate skill.

Her description of grief just floored me:  

"Clara knew that grief took its toll. It was paid at every birthday, every holiday, each Christmas.  It was paid when glimpsing the familiar handwriting, or a hat, or a balled-up sock.  Or hearing a creak that could have been, should have been, a footstep.  Grief took its toll each morning, each evening, every noon hour as those who were left behind struggled forward."

I was surprised when I finished to discover that there was one of the most fantastic elements of the plot was based on reality.  Gerald Bull was a Canadian scientist and arms designer, and it was believed that he was building his missile launcher for Saddam Hussein.  Really--the truth is often stranger than fiction, and Gerald Bull is proof.

Library copy.

Mystery.  2015.  376 pages.

The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz.  Like everyone else who read the first three books in Stieg Larsson's Millennium series, I was apprehensive.

I read all three in 2009 and 2010 and was fascinated by them, but I read a lot and so that was a plenitude of books ago.  This distance allowed me to be a little more open to any changes in style and focus.  

So... while many fans of the series have not been pleased with this new entry, I thought it was very good.  If I'd read it soon after my initial experiences with the series, I may have made too many comparisons and been disappointed.

However, with hundreds of books between my reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the last of Larsson's original series, and beginning this new one, I found adapting to Lagercrantz' Spider Web much easier.  And I liked it!

"It was true that nobody in Hacker Republic could claim the moral high ground here.....But they were not without ethics and above all they knew, also from their own experience, how power corrupts, especially power without control.  None of them liked the thought that the worst, most unscrupulous hacking was no longer carried out by solitary rebels or outlaws, but by state behemoths who wanted to control their population" (59).  The emphasis is mine, but that sentence highlights something we are all concerned about.

Library copy.

Suspense/Thriller.  2015.  400 pages.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Authentic William James

The Authentic William James.    Well, I had no idea their were so many categories for lunatics!  There were pauper lunatics and non-pauper lunatics; criminal lunatics, naval lunatics, melancholics, hysterics, epileptics.  And there were Chancery lunatics, usually members of rich families who were deemed incapable of managing their own affairs.  
 Our protagonist Simon Becker is a Special Investigator for the British Crown tasked with  "gathering evidence that determines whether or not someone is a Chancery Lunatic—afflicted with madness making them unfit to manage their fortunes—without tipping the hand of those whose resources often make them above the law."   

There are two earlier novels featuring Simon Becker, but I didn't realize this when I read the book, which functions quite well as a stand-alone.  However, since I found the novel quite entertaining, liked the quirkiness of Simon Becker's job, and found the characters intriguing, the earlier novels are on my library list.

There is no mention of William James, brother of Henry, but I wonder if Gallagher meant to call him to mind.  At any rate, that is the William James the title suggested to me when I first saw it.

Stephen Gallagher has quite the background--no wonder the book appealed to me:

Beginning his TV career with the BBC's DOCTOR WHO, Stephen Gallagher went on to establish himself as a writer and director of high-end miniseries and primetime episodic television. In his native England he's adapted and created hour-long and feature-length thrillers and crime dramas. In the US he was lead writer on NBC's CRUSOE, creator of CBS Television's ELEVENTH HOUR, and Co-Executive Producer on ABC's THE FORGOTTEN. His fourteen novels include DOWN RIVER, RAIN, VALLEY OF LIGHTS, and NIGHTMARE, WITH ANGEL. He's the creator of Sebastian Becker, Special Investigator to the Lord Chancellor's Visitor in Lunacy, in a series of novels beginning with THE KINGDOM OF BONES and THE BEDLAM DETECTIVE. 

Described by The Independent as "the finest British writer of bestselling popular fiction since le Carré ... Gallagher, like le Carré, is a novelist whose themes seem to reflect something of the essence of our times, and a novelist whose skill lies in embedding those themes in accessible plots." According to Arena magazine, "Gallagher has quietly become Britain's finest popular novelist, working a dark seam between horror and the psychological thriller.

The Daily Telegraph wrote, "Since Valley of Lights, he has been refining his own brand of psycho-thriller, with a discomforting knack of charting mental disintegration and a razor-sharp sense of place." Charles de Lint wrote in Mystery Scene magazine, "Gallagher is a master of abnormal psychology and he just gets better and better." Also in Mystery Scene David Mathew added, "never a writer to rest on his laurels, he has written good hard thrillers, some horror genre work (such as Valley of Lights), and a novel (Oktober) that might even qualify as a vague distortion of contemporary world fantasy... in places. You might go as far as to employ that overused phrase sui generis. He is, at any rate, one of the best writers of his generation."

Winner of British Fantasy and International Horror Guild awards.
I will mention this one again closer to publication.

NetGalley/Subterranean Press

Historical Mystery.  Sept. 30, 2016.  Print length:  320 pages.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The English Boys

The English Boys is a debut novel by Julia Thomas.   

Brief description:    Daniel Richardson and his best friend, Hugh Ashley-Hunt, both rising British actors, are in love with the same woman, the free-spirited Tamsyn Burke. Reluctantly, Daniel steps aside when Tamsyn decides to marry Hugh. Shortly before the wedding, however, she's murdered, and suspicion falls on the family, friends, and associates present.

 Most of the novel is told from Daniel's POV.  His grief and confusion evident as he tries to process Tamsyn's death.  Daniel feels the loss acutely--for himself and for his best friend Hugh, the man Tamsyn was going to marry.

Reluctantly, Daniel joins forces with Tamsyn's sister Carey in an effort to discover who could have killed Tamsyn.  Was Tamsyn the free-spirit she appeared to be?  How well do we know even friends and family?  How do events in the past influence the future?

Julia Thomas allows things to percolate slowly as Daniel attempts to distill his memories of his relationship with Tamsyn and then to incorporate information he learns when he accompanies Carey to Wales to visit Tamsyn's family.

Thomas has done a fine job in creating her characters and in building a complex plot, giving away just enough to keep you wondering if your suspicions are correct.  I look forward to more from Julia Thomas.

Read in February.  Blog review scheduled for June 21, 2016.

NetGalley/Midnight Ink

Mystery/Crime.  July 8, 2016.  Print version:  360 pages.  

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan

Age of Myth by Michael Sullivan

I wrote about this one in early April, but wanted to save my review until closer to publication.  (Note: After reading Age of Myth, I went on a Sullivan binge and read everything in the Riyria series, although I didn't review all of them.  I love Royce and Hadrian!)  

But it was Age of Myth that introduced me to Mr. Sullivan and his fantasy, and it takes things back a step. Back to Riyria thousands of years before Royce and Hadrian come along.  

I'm not much for gods in fantasy, so when Raithe kills a god and becomes a legend as a "god killer," I wasn't sure that the book was going to appeal to me.  However, men create gods in their own image, whether physical or metaphorical, and it soon becomes clear that the Fhrey, a powerful race with magical abilities,  have become gods to subjugated races.  At that point, I was all in.

The world-building is exemplary; the characters are as diverse as any group of people can produce--the good, the foolish, the arrogant, the brave, the corrupt, the vicious, the honorable.  The plot is exciting and full of energy.  I loved it. 

Sullivan's characters come off the page and choosing a favorite is difficult, but there are several that I couldn't help but fall in love with.  

High fantasy at its best, The Age of Myth is the first in a new series, and I can't wait for the next one!

NetGalley/Random House/Ballentine

Fantasy.  June 28, 2016.  Print length:  433 pages.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

And When I'm Not Reading...

Mail Art Continues.


The bottom two postcards on the left have some tea bag art;
a photo of Mila on one and the strange plant drawings on another.

I've had a lot of fun lately seeing how many
different ways I could decorate tea bags.

A photo of  a hibiscus, altered and printed on a tea bag.
Printer was running out of ink.

And a couple of tea bags stitched together.

I think I've  done 15 or 20 variations of photos, drawings, stamping, and embroidery on tea bags!  Now, I'm having to wait to build up my stash of used tea bags so I can do more of them.

Reading:  The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny.  I love Three Pines and all of the characters, but especially Ruth and Rosa!

Garden:  My favorite garden ornamental this year is the Chocolate Drop coleus.  I'm rooting more!

I have no idea where I got this, but I love it.  :)

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Facefaker's Game by Chandler Birch

Chandler Birch has written a book to fall in love with on his first outing.  In 2014, Simon & Schuster held a contest for emerging speculative fiction writers;  The Facefaker's Game was the winner.  Chandler Birch was 22.  He will be 24 when the book is published in November.  And folks, what a book!  

Just briefly:  a young protagonist, a world so well done that you adapt immediately, terrific characters, and a plot that kept me happily engrossed.  

I'll do another mention closer to time for publication, but you can pre-order now.   

The cover may change.  I notice on Amazon, there is no cover image, but I would not have chosen this one based on the cover.  The description is what caught my attention, and I was not disappointed.  In fact, it was so much more than what I could have expected.

“It’s Les Miserables meets Harry Potter in Atlantis with the protagonist as the Tenth Doctor, but as a teenager,” mused Birch in a Skype interview. “Ashes is the main character and gets in way over his head.”  (source)

Highly recommended!

NetGalley/Simon & Schuster

Fantasy.  Nov. 1, 2016.  Print length:  464 pages.  

Friday, June 10, 2016

What Happened to the Week?

We left Tuesday for a quick trip to Houston and got back yesterday.  The combination of all the yardwork from the weekend and the five hour drive there and back has left me so stiff!  I look at the garden and see what needs to be done...and groan.  

On the positive side, the cuttings I've been taking from rosemary, coleus, and sweet potato vine have all rooted.  I especially love the chocolate drop coleus:  it is happy in sun or shade, has a trailing habit, beautiful foliage, and is easy to propagate.  Today, I will take some more cuttings, do a little clean-up of shrubs, and note some chores that I can accomplish later.  I have dug up the monkey grass about half-way around one bed, but that is too strenuous for today.  I simply don't have the energy to tackle that today.

Most of my day will be writing letters, reading, and writing a couple of reviews.  :)

Dear Amy by Helen Callagan.  

Margot Lewis teaches at a private school; she is also an "agony aunt," an advice columnist for a local paper.  Not all of the letters she receives are genuine, and usually Margot spots them quickly, but when she receives a letter from a girl who says she has been kidnapped and is begging for help, Margot isn't sure whether or not the letter is a hoax. 

The police dismiss the letter; Bethan Avery, the girl who purportedly wrote the letter, has been missing for years and long presumed dead.  But more letters arrive, and a cold-case criminologist becomes interested because the letters have details that were never released.

A suspenseful psychological thriller, Dear Amy has plenty of twists!

NetGalley/Penguin UK

Psychological/Mystery/Suspense.  June 16, 2016.  Print length:  352 pages.

The Traitor's Story by Kevin Wignall.  

Finn Harrington is a historian (rumored to be a former spy).  Returning home after a research trip, he learns that his girlfriend has left him.  He hasn't had a chance to really consider why she left and whether or not her absence is permanent, when a neighbor appears at his door asking for his help--her fifteen-year-old daughter is missing.  

Finn initially brushes her off.  A reticent and withdrawn man,  he has his own circumstances to consider.  After some thought, however, he agrees to look into the situation.  Finn's search for the missing girl intrigues him and somehow initiates Finn's reinvolvement with himself and others.  

The story moves from present to past, allowing the reader to become privy to the events in Finn's past that have led to his disengagement with others and his almost total withdrawal into his writing.  Gradually, Finn becomes more approachable, more engaged with the world and those who inhabit it.

Some of the detail in the sections about the past could have been abbreviated.  While past circumstances are crucial to the plot in the present, this portion sometimes interrupted the pace.

Nevertheless, The Traitor's Story was a compelling read about a complex individual who must come to terms with his past and his present, and I really enjoyed it. 

NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer

Mystery/Suspense.  June 21, 2016.  Print length:  384 pages.

The Wages of Desire:  An Inspector Lamb Novel by Stephen Kelly is set in a small English village during the early years of the war.

Although this might fall into the cozy category, it is a much more complex version.  The characters have depth and individuality, and the plot is a knotty tangle of threads that reach back into the past.

 Secrets abound in the bucolic English countryside; the title is significant in more than one way.

I haven't read the first in this series, but I liked Inspector Lamb and the way Kelly managed to pull everything together.

Reviews on Goodreads run the gamut, but I found all the twisting threads fascinating and would eagerly read more of Inspector Lamb.

NetGalley/Pegasus Books

Mystery.  July 4, 2016.  Print length:  352 pages.

As usual, NetGalley is hit or miss, and I have had quite a few misses lately, but the above three novels kept me engaged and are worth all of the NetGalley e-books that hit the metaphoric DNF pile.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Two Reviews and a Question

300 Days of Sun by Deborah Lawrenson is set in Faro, the southernmost district in Portugal, which boasts 300 days of sun each year.  Jo, a journalist recently made redundant, enrolls in a language school in Faro to learn Portuguese. With little else on her mind but escaping from a relationship that is no longer satisfying, Jo meets Nathan Emberlin, who has a laid back confidence and an interest in everyone and everything.

Nathan, however, has not come to Faro simply to learn the language; he has a puzzle he is trying to solve, and knowing that Jo has a journalistic background, asks how she would go about uncovering the information he needs.

Nathan's investigation into an old child-abduction case intrigues the journalist in Jo, and she joins him in his search for answers.

The answers may lie in a far more distant past than at first expected, and Jo is advised to read The Alliance, a novel that involves refugees from WWII who arrive in Portugal, officially a neutral country but with fascist ties and plenty of Nazis.  A parallel story emerges that will, eventually, explain something about circumstances in the present.  (While interesting, some of the sections from the novel within the novel slow down the pacing.)

Someone does not want the distant or more recent past revealed, and Nathan and Jo's investigation turns threatening.

The consequences of the past, suspense, complex characters, and a captivating setting--I'm certainly interested in reading more by this author.

NetGalley/Lawsome Books

Suspense/Mystery.  May 16, 2016.  Print length:  384 pages.

Oh, how I love good historical fiction!  And Gentleman Captain provides a suspenseful historical tale filled with adventure.  Set a few years after Oliver Cromwell's death, Charles II  navigates the uneasy peace that lies between the Roundheads who supported Cromwell and the Royalists who support the monarchy. The novel covers something I'd never really thought about--the transition involved in the Restoration.  Old wounds are still raw, offenses are not yet forgiven, and politics are definitely divergent; efforts are being made to unite England, but the path is precarious and deciding who to trust is difficult.

Historically, there are some interesting details about the navy and its traditional operation (gentlemen captains with no experience is only one element, lovers of naval history will be more than satisfied with the details of naval operation), but the novel is also an adventure in which Matthew Quenton, a young inexperienced captain (who lost his last ship) is commissioned to accompany another ship captained by a former Roundhead to investigate and foil an attempt at conspiracy in Scotland.  

Fortunately for Matthew, he is accompanied by the man who saved his life when his last ship hit the rocks and sank.  Matthew and Kit Farrell have a deal:  Kit will teach Matthew seamanship and Matthew will teach Kit to read.  One of the most enjoyable elements of the novel is Davies' ability to bring to life so many secondary characters, always a feat to be admired.

The beginning was a little slow, but when the ships set sail, a fascinating tale begins.  Great plotting, compelling characters, and lots of action kept me engrossed.  And yes, I loved the couple of mentions of Samuel Pepys, naval administrator and diarist!

The novel was originally published in 2009, so I'm delighted to learn I can look forward to more of Matthew Quinton's adventures without a long wait.

J.D. Davies is a British historian and writes both fiction and nonfiction.

NetGalley/Endeavor Press

Historical Fiction/Adventure.  2009, 2016.  Print length:  341 pages.

Have you ever written a letter to an author?  
I'm considering working up the courage to do so, 
but I'm not there yet.

James Preller, an author of children's books, visits schools and receives a lot of fan mail, and he makes an effort to reply to the children who write to him in such a generous and humorous way!  

I was writing a post about letters and thank you notes on my other blog, and Mr. Preller gave me permission to use one of the letters he received and his reply.  You can check it out here.  A wonderful way to encourage kids write letters and what an experience if the author actually writes back!

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Memories of Ash by Intasar Khanani

Memories of Ash: The Sunbolt Chronicles Book 2 by Intasar Khanani continues the adventures of  Hitomi, who made her first appearance in Sunbolt.  

I've waited a long time for this one and am delighted with Memories of Ash.  I adored Sunbolt (reviewed here) and recommend reading it first to get some of the background.  

Briefly:  Hitomi lost her memories and nearly her life when she used her sunbolt in the previous installment.  A year with Brigit Stormwind has healed Hitomi physically, but her memories have not fully returned.  Stormwind has provided Hitomi with shelter and training for a year, when she is suddenly summoned by the High Council of Mages to stand trial for treason.

Alarmed by an intercepted communication, Hitomi prepares herself to follow Stormwind and  attempt to sway the High Council.  She experiences some narrow escapes and harrowing adventures on the journey, and by the time she arrives, Stormwind has already been convicted and sentenced.  Hitomi, our intrepid heroine, has no intention of abandoning her mentor....

Khanani's prose flows and her characters live and breathe; some of the very minor characters live as fully in this world as do the more important characters.  Magic and adventure at its best with a female protagonist who struggles to do the right thing.

What else?

*Hitomi makes mistakes, but has sound ethical and moral values. 
*Hitomi doesn't expect to do everything on her own.  Sometimes she asks for help.
*This isn't a romance; it is an adventure.
*I love Val and so many of the friends Hitomi meets along the way.  But mostly Val.

I read it the day it appeared on my Kindle (I'd pre-ordered it) and my only complaint is having to wait to find out what happens in the Burnt Lands.

Oh, and Sunbolt is a novella, but Memories of Ash is a full-length novel.  

Purchased for next to nothing!  A bargain at any price.  

Fantasy.  May 30, 2016.  Print length: 358 pages.  

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Eleanor & Park, The Girl Before, and Jane Steele

Eleanor & Park.  I really liked Attachments, but I loved Eleanor & Park.  It has been on my list since it was published; I skimmed all the positive reviews at the time because I didn't want to know too much about it, but...somehow I never got around to reading it.  Now, I have, and it was a pleasure.

Although billed as YA, E&P is a book for anyone who remembers what it was like to be a young adult, at that awkward stage and the need to be accepted; Rainbow Rowell clearly remembers.  The pov alternates between Eleanor and Park, two misfits who somehow, eventually fit together.  

One of Rowell's greatest strength is her ability to create characters who are interesting and likable, not goody-goody or too bad-ass.  Characters who are ordinary, but individual, not heroic and not totally downtrodden.  Sometimes small things d0 require courage and abuse can fail to make an individual surrender.  No magic, no deadly battles, no assassins, no zombies.  Two young people who learn to depend on each other and who face life's  predicaments and hazards with pluck and determination.  And that is not always easy, especially for adolescents.


YA/Contemporary.  2013.  Print length:  335 pages.

The Girl Before is timely in the sense that human trafficking is something right here in our own world, not in some distant country.  In fact, our local paper has been running a series of articles about human trafficking that brings the topic that many novels lately have used as a premise--too close to home.  

The Girl Before was an intense and frustrating read, but often novels make the distant and the impersonal...very personal. Was the premise of this novel believable?  Maybe not so much, because the expense of kidnapping, raising, and educating a child for the purpose of selling her (or him) ten or twelve years later would be difficult to justify economically(Dear God, what a thing to say!).  Quite a few elements of the novel didn't ring true...yet the brainwashing and Stockholm Syndrome are quite believable, sad, and disheartening.  

An interesting and well-written novel about a degrading, repellent practice that is much more common than those of us in our middle-class neighborhoods want to believe.  If it happens most often to runaways, immigrants, or the very poor (there are instances of parents selling their children or pimping the children themselves) than to the people we know, it does not change the horror.  A compelling read that manages to avoid graphic descriptions, avoids manipulating the reader while still making the point, and does not leave you without hope.  

NetGalley/Penguin Group

Psychological Thriller.  Penguin Group.  Print length:  320 pages.

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye is a recent retelling of Jane Eyre, and the similarities are all over the place--except turned on their heads.  Jane Eyre in a fun-house mirror.  :)  

It was amusing to see how closely and how absurdly Faye followed and inverted characters, events, and elements from the original novel.  There are murders and romance and intriguing situations.   

There are flaws (pacing could have been better, some parts that drag and the whole treasure motif didn't feel convincing), but I have to admit to enjoying it thoroughly.   What I enjoyed most (besides noting all of the clever sneaky subversions) was the Thornfield household with the butler, who was not a butler, and Jane using her charge's love of horses to teach...well, almost everything.  Well done, Governess Jane.  :)

Library copy.

Pastiche/Serial Killer Parody.  2016.  427 pages.