Friday, July 31, 2015

Half A King, by Joe Abercrombie

In this Fantasy Epic, Yarvi is the second son of a fearsome warrior king.  Born with a malformed hand, he is being trained to serve as a minister to royalty, a master of herbs, medical arts, diplomacy and even languages of the people surrounding them.  But circumstances change quickly when his father the king and his eldest son are brought down by an unknown enemy on their way to meet with the king of a nearby kingdom.

Yarvi, on the verge of completing the training to become a minister, is suddenly in line for the throne. In a land where strength is power and weakness is scorned, the people of Gettsland are not confident in Yarvi's potential for leadership.  Though he really doesn't desire to be king, he knows it is his duty.  He begins with swearing to avenge the death of his father and brother, and then leads a ship of soldiers to the land of the suspected assassins.

Yarvi is stunned to find himself the victim of a double cross and a murder plot that he barely escapes.  He is clever enough not to reveal his true identity, is sold into slavery and endures incredible hardship as he slowly works his way back to his home country. Over time, his skills are found to be valuable by his owner, the captain of a trading ship, and his physical strength grows as he is forced to man an oar in the slave galley which propels the ship. He eventually escapes in a bloody mutiny, but it occurs in winter in a harsh and remote area far from his home country.  He is traveling with an unlikely band of "brothers," (including one woman who is excellent at charting a course based on the stars).

The saga makes many twists and turns; friends turn out to be enemies and enemies sometimes become allies and even friends.  Yarvi's wisdom and skills grow as he suffers incredible difficulties, but his unfailing aim is to return to his country and right the great wrong that has been done within the royal family. His unlikely band of comrades will become his trusted allies, but will it be too little, too late, to reclaim his throne and right the wrongs that now seem to be inevitable?  Did I mention twists and turns?  They keep surprising the reader as the climax approaches and even beyond.

This is a quick moving and entertaining Fantasy read which will leave you wanting to know what happens next in this rough and tumble, duplicitous world.  Published in 2014, Half A King  anticipates  a couple of follow up novels, so be watching for those.

Orphan Number Eight, by Kim van Alkemade

Orphan Number Eight is fiction, but it is based on historical events which occurred at the beginning of the 20th century in New York City. 

The novel begins when Rachel Rabinowitz, later identified as Orphan #8, is 4 years old. It suddenly and disastrously becomes apparent that the happy family she and her brother were born into is anything but.  After the death of their mother and the abrupt departure of their father, the children become wards of the state.  Because of their ages, they are separated immediately, and Rachel is sent to the Hebrew Infant Asylum where orphans up to age 5 are kept. Though she has not slept in a crib in years, she is placed in one in the Isolation unit, where all newcomers spend at least a month.

The Jewish community had established orphanages to enable their children to receive safe and compassionate care if they were found to be without parents or family to provide for them.  In fact, the author's grandfather was one of the thousands of boys who grew up in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum of that era.  In his case, his father had abandoned the family, leaving a wife with no resources to care for the children. The wife signed her children over to the institution and got a job there herself. The children lived in the dorms for their age group, but the mom was able to continue a relationship with them.

When doing genealogical research on her family, the author Kim van Alkemade discovered archived minutes of the Orphanage Board Minutes with some cryptic comments about how to proceed when the results of x-ray treatments on the children resulted in baldness. Further research indicated that some doctors may have experimented with the efficacy of x-rays as treatment for various conditions, using healthy young children as test subjects. This data inspired the novel Orphan Number Eight.

Nurses at the Orphan Asylum had an efficient system of caring for the children.  The children remained in their beds most of the day and were never cuddled or catered to if they cried or had a fit.  The children eventually learned to be quiet.  Rachel caught measles toward the end of her stay in Isolation so she was moved to the Infirmary. Her stay there brought her to the attention of Dr. Feldman and his new assistant, Dr. Mildred Solomon.   Dr. Solomon felt a constant need to prove herself as a female in a man's world.  She excelled in reading x-rays, and decided they might be useful in destroying tonsils so that children would not have to undergo surgical removal. Research would be necessary.

As a result of frequent exposure, Rachel develops irreversible alopecia, which is complete hair loss all over her body. 

The novel switches then to Rachel's story as an adult.  Life has been difficult for Rachel. She is secretive about her private life and concerned about her own health.  She is a nurse, working in the hospital wing of the Old Hebrews Home in NYC. One afternoon an elderly cancer patient is wheeled up to the fifth floor where Rachel is on duty.  It is none other than Dr. Mildred Solomon. 

Will Rachel choose mercy or revenge as deeply buried memories come rushing back?


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Death Wears A Mask, by Ashley Weaver

Ashley Weaver is actually a librarian, still working for the Allen Parish Libraries in Oberlin, Louisiana while writing her third book in this series.  She topped the 2015 Reading List for Mystery with the first book, Murder at the Brightwell.  The second, Death Wears a Mask, is the advance copy that attendees of the Literary Breakfast at the ALA Conference received after a short talk by Ms. Weaver and other winning authors gathered there.

Amory Ames is a wealthy young woman at home in the elite circles of 1930's British society.  She is developing a reputation as an amateur sleuth, much to the chagrin of both the police and her playboy husband.  In fact, Amory and Milo are working at regaining trust and a more stable relationship in their marriage, which was shaken in the first book of the series when she began to suspect him of murder.  In this story, the couple attends a dinner party hosted by a friend of Amory's mother.  She is stunned when the older woman tells her that she suspects that one of her dinner guests has taken some of her jewelry.  Mrs. Barrington insists that Amory help her work a plan to uncover the thief.

Amory reluctantly agrees, but finds herself in familiar territory when one of Mrs. Barrington's guests is murdered at a masked ball hosted by one of her other guests, and she and Milo work together to resolve the mystery.  As they delve deeper, nothing is at seems, and their own relationship which they were nurturing so carefully seems to be on worse footing than ever.

The layers of the mystery remind the reader of Agatha Christie's style; descriptions of the fashions, the hats and gloves and the opulent furnishings of the grand old homes evoke the aura of pre-WW II Great Britain.  

Well written, clever, and fun to read; I recommend it to all my mystery loving friends. It should be available widely in October, 2015, so make yourself a note!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Warren the 13th and The All-Seeing Eye, by Tania del Rio

This is a page turner that ought to capture the fancy of most middle school readers. There are freaky animals, a riddle from the past, witches, and a very earnest young hero named Warren the 13th.  Yes, he is the 13th Warren, and since his dad died, he has become the owner of an old decaying hotel in the middle of nowhere.  But Warren 13 remembers that when he was a child,  there were many guests, many employees and a very successful business.  Now his uncle, the very lazy Rupert, has taken over and let everything go.

Warren is the lone bellhop valet, waiter, groundskeeper, and errand boy.  He stays busy, even when there are no guests.  Uncle Rupert has recently married his beloved Anaconda, and she believes the rumors are true that there is a magical All Seeing Eye on the premises, and she intends to find it. She just might have bewitched Rupert, who refuses to believe that she is tearing up the hotel, and besides that, is very unkind to Warren.

Mysterious guests begin to appear and they too seem to think that there is a magical All Seeing Eye on the premises somewhere. Warren has been all over the hotel many times and has never seen it, but when he finds a mysterious clue-filled riddle out in the hedge maze, he begins to think it might be true, and that he had best find it before Aunt Anaconda does!

I received a pre-publication copy of this delightful book from Quirk Publishing at the ALA conference June 2015.  The story is all there, but not all the illustrations yet. The publisher promises gorgeous two color illustrations on every page. The book is illustrated by award winning Will Staehle, who actually created the character of Warren, though the story is written by his talented college friend, Tania del Rio.

Did I mention each chapter title begins with  In Which..., and then gives a clue as to what happens in one exciting chapter after another? Carefully planned with attention to detail and visual humor, this book should fly off the shelves when it becomes widely available in November 2015.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Killing Maine, by Mike Bond

I really wanted to like this book because I'm sympathetic to the premise that wind turbines are a menace and a blight on the communities that they have been foisted upon.  If even half of the corruption in Maine politics/utility company skullduggery alleged in this book is true, Maine needs some bigger prisons for sure, and sooner rather than later...Wake up, America!  That being said....

This is the first Pono Hawkins thriller I have read, but I understand it is second in a series.  I did not see Pono as the irresistible Lothario that author Mike Bond apparently does, so I had to "suspend disbelief," time after time as one strong, independent woman after another fell for him immediately and completely, even knowing of his ongoing relationships with the other women.  He's a surfer, sure, but he is the narrator of the book, and I find his poor grammar kind of annoying.

I do enjoy the adventure/thriller/mystery genre, so I admire his strength and stamina in the rough terrain in bitterly cold Maine in the winter, his loyalty to his Special Forces buddies whenever they need help, no questions asked, and his capacity for using the technological skills of former war buddies to find GPS locations and telephone conversations from half way around the world. All these things help move the plot forward, and require no "belief suspension" on my part.

So, Pono is from Hawaii now, but also has roots in Maine.  When he receives a call from his Big Romance of Book 1, Lexie, stating that her husband has been arrested in Maine and it doesn't look good, Pono is on the first plane to Maine to save the man who once saved him on the Afghan  battlefield. What we are soon told is that it was Lexie's husband that sent Pono to prison based on testimony from Pono's strait-laced Special Forces associate, the same Bucky Franklin.  Lexie couldn't see herself waiting 20 years for Pono, so she severed that relationship and married Bucky shortly after Pono was found guilty.

Though Pono's convictions were soon overturned, they remain on his record and are stumbling blocks when the local cops in Maine are looking to pin murders and vandalism of wind turbines on him after he has asserted himself into the investigation that caused Bucky to be arrested. Lots of secrets, lots of corruption, and some very close calls for Pono.  In the meantime, his dad in Hawaii has been diagnosed with a very serious cancer and may be very close to the end.  Pono, with help from his law-skirting friends, gets a  false ID so that he can fly back to see his dad, even when Maine law enforcement has warned him not to leave the area.

I received an ecopy of the book from NetGalley. The book has been available since May, 2015

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Art of Crash Landing, by Melissa De Carlo

This book has an interesting premise, but it was almost too hard to care enough about the protagonist to want to finish.  Mattie is a grown woman.  Her gift seems to be making poor choices and she does it over and over. She is pregnant and penniless.  She knows that her live-in boy friend Nick does not want children, but she has not been responsible enough to keep up with the birth control.  She goes to her stepfather Queeg in desperation when her car is breaking down and she has no money to pay her half of the rent.  She does have a soft spot in her heart for Queeg, but is too wrapped up in herself to notice that he has some pretty serious health issues himself.  Mattie's mom has passed away, but she and Queeg were divorced before that. Mom had a dependence on alcohol that sometimes got away from her, so although he was only officially a step dad for 4 years, he may have been the most responsible parent she ever had.  He tells her that the lawyer who has been calling her (of course she never answered) has news about her grandmother's will.

Against everybody's advice she heads out from Pensacola headed for the small town in Oklahoma where her mother grew up, knowing she has no money for gas, food or a room, but wanting to be gone from step dad's trailer park before her boy friend (probably ex bf...) gets there to "talk."  She hasn't mentioned to step dad that she stole some valuables from the boyfriend before she left.

She finally makes it to Gandy, Oklahoma in spite of the fact that the car has lost the high gear, she is tired, dirty and looks homeless, a little queasy from pregnancy and hunger, but she still has her antenna up when she sees the handsome priest in the church building across the street from the lawyer's office.  Of course she learns that the lawyer is out of town but she is talking herself into a crush on the priest.

Her first thought with anyone she meets seems to be, "How can I use this person to my advantage?" and that is consistent as she meets one after another, many who are trying to help.  Eventually she realizes that the girl these people remember is nothing like the mother she knew at all.  She begins to search out the truth about her mother and grandmother, and there are lots of secrets and surprises there. The paralegal lets her move into her grandmother's house at first, since they cannot just give her the money immediately, which is what she had hoped.  And when a real lawyer gets back to town, the news is she has to get out of the house as well. 

Her time in Gandy helps her to mature a little, but she still has a way to go, in my humble opinion.  Adult readers may enjoy the crude language and humor...there is plenty of humor, wit, and interesting characters, but role models for young people are few and far between, unless you are looking for negative examples.

Gaijin: American Prisoner of War, by Matt Faulkner

This graphic novel Gaijin illustrates the heart-rending experience of the Miyamoto family of San Francisco in 1941.  Because his father Ichiro is Japanese (though his mom is white), the son Koji and his mother are sent by the US Government to a relocation center, aka, a Prisoner Of War camp for U.S. citizens. The father has previously taken a business trip to Japan so he is not at home when the letter comes. Koji is 13.

Sadly, he is not accepted on the streets of San Francisco and neither is he accepted in the relocation center because he is half white. He is victimized by a gang of bullies. He is called by the insulting name Gaijin, by the Japanese boys in the camp, but he does receive some guidance and protection from his dad's employer, who is also at the camp.

This is a little known part of our American history.  The graphics help tell the story as imagined by author/illustrator Matt Faulkner.  Mr. Faulkner actually had a great aunt who had married a Japanese citizen and had children who experienced racial prejudice in the United States.

The book is categorized as Juvenile Fiction and was published in 2014 by Disney/Hyperion Books.