Wednesday, December 25, 2013

December Reading

Even though I haven't been posting I've been reading. Since the last post I've finished Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, The Silent Wife by A. Harrison, Wisp of a Thing by Alex Bledsoe, Brilliance by Marcus Sakey, The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer, The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, The Chance by Robyn Carr, With Autumn's Return by Amanda Cabot, The Sentinels of Andersonville, by Tracy Groot, Runner by Patrick Lee, Reality Boy by A.S. King, The Accidental Highwayman by Ben Tripp, and The Anxiety of Kalix the Werewolf by Martin Millar.

Running out of battery  right now so I'll talk about these later. Definitely some worthwhile and entertaining reads.

Quick run down on the aforementioned -- Steelheart. It's by Brandon Sanderson. Ok, even though for folks who've read his books before that was enough to make them want it, I'll elaborate just a little for those new to to him. When people with super powers turn up some folks think that super heroes will appear. Unfortunately those with powers turn into super villains, ruling ordinary people but a boy whose father was killed in a bank by one of these supernatural characters joins up with a secret army intent on saving humanity.

Wisp of a Thing, Alex Bledsoe's second novel depicting the Tufa people of the Smokey Mountains, takes a bereaved musical star into their midst in search of a lost song who finds a mystery among magical, mythical folks.

Marcus Sakey's  Brilliance, is an entertaining read set in a world that diverged from ours when people with extraordinary gifts began to be born in the 1980s. Our hero is the divorced dad of one normal and one "abnormal" child. He works for the government agency that keeps the gifted in check and uncovers an unpleasant truth about the boarding schools gifted children are sent to. Going undercover to catch gifted terrorists, he discovers more than he bargained for.

Seems to be a month for stories of people with super talents.  Runner by
Patrick Lee is the first in the Sam Dryden series coming from Minotaur in February. Sam, a formerly military special ops, is not doing too well trying to survive the emotional wallop of his wife's death. Out running one night he is run into by Rachel, a twelve-year-old girl who has a murderous assassination team on her tail. This fast paced thriller is a great combination of action and suspense.

Reality Boy by A.S. King has been getting lots of well deserved attention. The protagonist is bedeviled by his past when, at age five, he was dubbed "The Crapper" because of his propensity to defecate in inappropriate places when he was on a reality show about dysfunctional families. His family is definitely dysfunctional, everyone made miserable by his seriously psychopathic sister who lives in the basement and basically holds the family hostage to her anger.

The Grand Sophy is grand indeed. It is one of Heyer's books that I had missed when reading every book of hers I could find in the 1970s and 80s so I was doubly glad to find it. Heyer's books are always a treat and a comfort read with her feisty heroines and witty repartee.

I was pleasantly surprised by The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. I liked historical details and the botanical information but the characters weren't all that appealing and it dragged on toward the end.

The Accidental Highwayman by Ben Tripp, a forthcoming book from Tor Teen is a delightful romp featuring wonderful characters, rip-roaring adventure, and a lovely blend of faerie fantasy and young love.

Read my review of The Chance by Robyn Carr, With Autumn's Return by Amanda Cabot, The Sentinels of Andersonville, by Tracy Groot, and The Anxiety of Kalix the Werewolf by Martin Millar in Booklist.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Reading Plan - Non-Fiction - Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin

As part of my reading plan I try to read widely in many different genres. I look for titles that I think may be popular and under recognized. I'm not looking for best sellers but for the next surprising read. Yesterday I received a package of forthcoming books from Candlewick and Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kulkin caught my eye. I've long been fascinated by questions of gender.

When I was in first grade I spent a long time in the pediatric surgical ward of Fitzsimmons Army Hospital. I had appendicitis that was initially diagnosed as "the flu" and ended up at death's door until my mom called a civilian pediatrician who was willing to see me on a Sunday. He sent me to the hospital, with a police escort who met us en route, as he didn't think I should wait for an ambulance. At the hospital, a surgeon who had operated on Dwight D. Eisenhower removed my ruptured appendix. Then, I ended up with peritonitis and developed a nearly fatal penicillin allergy. I was there for what I remember as months but was probably only weeks. There was a boy there who had been operated on to turn him into a girl. It was horrifying. After that experience I had recurring nightmares for more than three decades. I often thought about that boy who had been turned into a girl and wondered what had happened to him.

Because of this experience I was fascinated by stories of transgender people. Luna, an outstanding novel  by Julie Anne Peters was the first book dealing with the issue I found. I also found great empathy in reading Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger and I am J by Cris Beam.

For me, I think the appeal of these stories is seeing into the lives of people who feel different, who don't fit into the narrow roles sometimes assigned to us and deciding to claim who they are.

Beyond Magenta does a terrific job of this. Kulkin has entered the lives of seven very diverse teens to tell their stories. Some are people born in the wrong bodies, or born with indeterminable genders (I think that was probably the deal with the boy I met in the hospital who has so haunted me), or are a a little of both commonly recognized genders, or a person who doesn't want to be identified by a gender at all. Kulkin's striking and insightful photographs add another dimension to the stories of these young people who are figuring out who they are in a world that is not always friendly to them.

This compelling book is a sensitive and fascinating look into the lives of these teens.

As part of a readers'  advisor reading plan, non-fiction is important because sometimes readers become fascinated by a topic and want more information, it gives the readers' advisor concrete information on the topic helping to discern the best or most reliable fiction on a topic. It also gives on a broader knowledge base.

This book will be out in February 2014. ISBN: 978-0-7636-5611-9.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Happy Book Birthdays The Hanging Judge by Michael Ponsor and City of Lost Dreams by Magnus Flyte

Didn't realize I had reviewed this one, as a Book of the Week, back in October, somehow missing that it wouldn't be out until now. It is a really good sign when I can remember a book well after reading 30 or so books between when I read it and now. If you or someone you know likes legal thrillers, check out the just released The Hanging Judge by Michael Ponsor

City of Lost Dreams by Magnus Flyte, a terrific contemporary fantasy, came out last week just before Thanksgiving so I missed getting out the birthday announcement. I honestly think mentioning it today is a better time because I know last week went by in a happy blur with lots of family, food, and good times for many of us.

Now is the time to be picking books to read when traveling for Christmas or to give as gifts.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Book of the Week - City of Lost Dreams by Magnus Flyte

City of Lost Dreams by Magnus Flyte
Penguin 978-0-14-312327-9
2013 - December

This stands-on-its-own sequel to City of Dark Magic is so good readers will want to read more from Flyte. Sarah Weston, armed with a PhD in neuromusicology has traveled from Boston to Prague where her young friend, Pols, a blind twelve-year-old prodigy is dying due to a genetic defect. Before leaving for Vienna to try to convince a nanobiologist to try to help Pols, Sarah dines with her friend Nico, a 400 year old dwarf, and Max, her princely ex. Sarah sees a man flailing about in the cold water and jumps in to save him. Her efforts lead to gunshots and the man she cannot save turns out to be John of Nepomuk, a martyred saint from the 14th century. Rich with history, alchemy, romance, drug infused time travel, and mystery, this tale is wonderfully amusing and satisfying. It goes onto my list of best of 2013.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Books of the Week - Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler

A few years ago books with a protagonist in college were adult books. Now they are YA or as some call them new adult. As an adult, but one who remembers that first year out on my own, I still can identify with the young women featured in these books.

I freely admit that I'm a fangirl. Not a fangirl of characters (OK, so Miles Vorkosigan is my hero) but a big fan of authors. I get giddy when I meet them in person or when they dm me on Twitter or Facebook. In Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell's latest novel, Cath is a fangirl of a book series turned movie series with shades of Harry Potter and Twilight. She writes slash fan fiction about her favorite characters and has accrued a huge internet following. When she and her identical twin go off to college in Lincoln, Cath is abandoned by Wren who has moved on from their shared interests when they were younger. Cath is lonely and isolated but the boy she thinks is her roommate's boyfriend keep encroaching on her life. This is a beautiful, heartfelt coming of age story with a smart but insecure heroine and thoughtfully depicted young men.

Sarah Ockler burst onto the scene with 20 Boy Summer, a book I never got to read because the girls in the Bistro Book Club passed it from hand to hand and I didn't want to take it back when so many were sharing with each other. I liked Bittersweet quite a bit but her 2013 book, The Book of Broken Hearts is a definite keeper. Jude Hernandez will be going of to the University of Denver in the fall but she is spending her last summer before college hanging out with her beloved Papi who is suffering from early onset Alzheimers. A Harley Papi had ridden through out South America before emigrating to Colorado from Argentina seems to be something that keeps him in the present. Needing help to restore it, Jude asks for help at a local motorcycle shop and ends up hiring Emilio Vargas to help with the project. Unfortunately, years earlier when she was only twelve, Jude had made a pact with her much older sisters to never become involved with a Vargas boy. Now she is with one every day as she tries to make her dream for her dad come true. A good read-alike for Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles.

These books are very different from each other even though they both feature strong intelligent young women who have finished high school, who care deeply about their fathers who are having difficulties, and who become involved with really good guys. Both are winners in my book and as of this minute they are a couple of my favorites this year.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Books finished today - The Whole Enchilada by Diane Mott Davidson, One Second After, William R. Forstchen

I had been posting recent reads on my home page with a link to my review. Suddenly the widget I was using won't allow links so I'm looking at other ways of keeping track. Anyway, I usually have 3 or 4 books going at a time, sometimes more. This leads to the very bizarre chance that I will sometimes finish more than one sizable book on a particular day. I'm really swamped so it will be a while before I can get my reviews done on The Whole Enchilada by Diane Mott Davidson and for my book club, One Second After by William Forstchen.

It had been a long time since I had last read one of Mott's delicious culinary mysteries and it was nice to The Whole Enchilada starts with a birthday party to celebrate Arch's seventeenth birthday and the birthday of a lifelong friend born the same day. Holly, one of Goldy's close friends in the days after their divorces from doctors, and the mother of the other birthday boy, drops dead of an apparent heart attack when leaving the party. But, since this is a Goldy Schulz mystery, of course Holly's death turns out to be a murder. As Goldy tries to figure it out, events from the past come into play.
revisit her and the people in her life.

A total change of pace is One Second After, Fortchen's 2009 cautionary tale of the potential for an
EMP caused apocalypse. I'm looking forward to meeting with my book club next Saturday to discuss it. It brings up lots of interesting questions. I am definitely not a prepper or a survivalist but I do believe in being self sufficient and using good sense. Ilsa Bick's Ashes, the first in a YA trilogy, also uses an EMP to bring on the end of the world as we know it. Personally, after an EMP apocalypse, I imagine librarians may play a major role in rebuilding, with their ability to find and organize information.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Book of the Week - Seeing Red by Kathryn Erskine

Ever since Quaking, Kathryn Erskine's books have been automatic reads for me. While Seeing Red skews a little younger than most of what I read it is oh, so good. Set in 1972, Red, a twelve year old living in rural Virginia has just lost his dad. His best friend Thomas, a black kid a couple years older than him, has rejected him and the family business "Porter's: We Fix it Right," a garage/convenience store/gas station looks to be going under. Red is dismayed when his Mama decides to sell the business and move away. As Red tries to figure out how to stay in Stony Gap, he makes some bad decisions, learns a lot, discovers some historical family secrets, and begins to become a man. Erskine's stories always delve deep into what it is that makes a person human, what goes into their moral makeup, how they decide what is good and right. This is a terrific heart-warming but definitely not saccharine story that deals with real issues for the here and now as well as the role history can play in a family down through the years.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Book of the Week - The Boy in the Snow by M.J. McGrath

I really enjoyed The Boy in the Snow, second in M.J. McGrath’s Edie Kiglatuk mystery series. It comes out in paperback today. Edie is half Inuit. While helping her ex-husband in the course of him running the Iditarod, she stumbles across a baby, buried in the snow. With an election campaign going hot and heavy, her discovery and the possible involvement of a religious sect lead the reader through a fascinating frozen world. It’s been blurbed as being a read-alike for some of the Scandinavian authors but I liked what I saw as more of a western sensibility. It made me think of some of the books with native American sleuths such as those by Tony Hillerman, Margaret Coel, and C.M. Wendelboe.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Book of the Week - The Hanging Judge by Michael Ponsor

Ponsor's debut is a welcome addition to the legal thriller genre. Judge David Norcross is thrust into the spotlight when the feds decide to prosecute a death penalty case in western Massachusetts. When a drive by shooting kills not only a Puerto Rican gang member, but also a well liked nurse volunteering at a clinic, the sixteen year old driver of the shooter's car names Moon Hanson, the shooter. Moon, a former gang member, twice jailed, changed his life when he fell in love with Sandra, a middle class young woman earning her masters in library science. Their nice life with their baby girl is ripped apart when the police invade and trash their apartment in the middle of the night. An ambitious Cuban-American prosecutor and old fashioned, chain smoking defense attorney go up against each other in Norcross's courtroom to decide the high stakes fate of Moon. David, who has been widowed for several years finds himself falling for college professor Claire. Many characters, an interesting premise, and historical insights into an early 19th century capital trial in the same area, suck the reader in and keep the pages turning.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Book of the Week - The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig

Willig skillfully entwines the lives of two women, one born in 1900 and dying on her hundredth birthday and the other, an ambitious attorney living in the Manhattan of the late 20th century.

Orphaned Addie, was the daughter of a younger son of good family, who threw propriety to winds marrying the woman he was in love with and living in Bloomsbury. When they are killed in an accident she is sent to live with her uncle the Earl of Ashford and is taken under the wing of her cousin, Bea. Willig brilliantly limns the world of upper crust nobility and in counterpoint, the world of a poor relation in the early years of the 20th century, the tumultuous years of World War I and roaring twenties in Britain. Estranged, the cousin's lives change drastically when they meet up again in Kenya.

Clemmie, a Manhattan attorney on the partnership track has always felt close to her granny Addie but doesn't follow up on the family history until granny Addie dies on her hundredth birthday. Clemmie has put her life on hold until she can make partner. She's always been attracted to her cousin by marriage but he married someone else and she was in a long engagement that didn't play out.

Willig teases out bits and pieces, illuminating both women's stories and the eras in which they live.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Book of the Week -Stained by Cheryl Rainfield

Stained is a don't put it down, keep reading it to the end, forget what time of day or night it is thriller. Sarah is sixteen and thinks her life will be changed when she gets treatment to lighten or remove a port wine birthmark on her face. She has it all planned and then her hopes are dashed when disaster strikes her father's business. Even though she is self conscious about her birthmark and bullied because of it, she stands up to bullies who harass her best friend. Walking home in an icy rain she is rescued from bullies by Brian, an attractive young man who works for her father but refuses a ride from him. Before she gets home, he grabs her, drugs her, blindfolds her, and throws her in the trunk. Locked in an empty room is is raped, denied access to a toilet, only sometimes given bananas, peanut butter and water, and forced to behave as he wants her to while he holds hostage with threats against her family. From things he says, Sarah discovers he has held other girls before her and killed them. Meanwhile, Nick, a friend of Sarah's helps her parents with their efforts to get her back. This brutal story is one that will haunt the reader forever. While isolated and in the dark because of the leather blindfold locked to around her head, Sarah doesn't give up. She perseveres, trying to count the days by making balls of the aluminum foil peeled from the peanut butter jars. I know this will have great appeal to reluctant readers and can't wait to share it with them.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Book of the Week - Battle Magic by Tamora Pierce

I've loved every one of Tamora Pierce's books that I have read but I don't necessarily read all the books in a series because I'm often serving on award or selected list committees and concentrating on what is eligible for whatever I'm reading for at that time.

Anyway, I know I've read about Briar before but I also know I've missed many of his adventures. So Battle Magic was especially delightful because it stands alone even though it features a world and characters who are not all new.

Three mages, Briar who is sixteen, his mentor Rosethorn, and Evvy who is only twelve but very strong at working her stone magic are visiting the mountainous kingdom of Gyongxe. They are invited to visit the neighboring Yanjing Empire and the emperor's legendary gardens. While appreciating the beauty and grandeur of Yanjing they are exposed to the emperor's power and cruelty. Learning of his plans to invade Gyongxe, and with Rosethorn needing to go on an important mission they plan to leave. Evvy is captured and tortured. She uses her stone magic to make it impossible for her to betray anything she knows but still, her seven cats are not safe. After an amazing and horrible escape, Evvy finds a way into a mountain of rock where she encounters beings she never imagined existed.

The magic systems used in this story are all fascinating. The protagonist find inventive ways to use the magic they possess. The plant magic used by Briar and Rosethorn is used as defensive weapons when they make bombs filled with thorn seeds that sprout and grow wildly when deployed. They can also make grass grow so fast and tall that it stops the invaders' horses.

Readers who like adventure, vividly described battles, clever characters with lots of heart, and a fully developed and unique system of magic will enjoy this. I particularly like that it has strong appeal to both male and female fantasy fans. The setting conjures up visions of China and Tibet or maybe Shangri-la but always a world one wants to explore.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Book of the Week - Spirit of Steamboat by Craig Johnson

I'm not ready to think of Christmas yet but I have found a lovely gift for readers who like modern Westerns. This sweet novella starts with a young woman coming into the sheriff's office on Christmas eve with a garment bag and asks Walt Longmire, who is alone for the holiday,  to help her find the old sheriff. When they go to the assisted living facility where Lucien Connally, former sheriff, and one of the WWII pilots who participated in Dolittle's "bombs over Tokyo," we are treated to a tale from 1988, the early years of Walt's tenure as sheriff. With a terrible storm sweeping down from the Rockies, a little girl who will die if not immediately taken to a hospital in Denver, is stranded with her grandmother. The flight for life helicopter can't take off and an ambulance would not make it in time even if the roads weren't closed. Walt, Lucien, a doctor, and a young woman pilot decide to use a decommissioned WWII bomber to try to save her life.

Johnson captures the spirit of the west and adds in authentic detail, such as the checkerboard painted Purina dog food tower on I-25, making the setting come to life. The story of the bucking bronco emblem, distinctively present on Wyoming license plates, was fascinating and added to the understanding of the characters.

This is a great gift for the western guys in your life who may not think they have enough time to tackle a novel, but that this
may be the book that hooks them for the dark days of winter.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Book of the Week - The Cure by Douglas E. Richards

The Cure starts off as a high octane thriller when a loving American family is destroyed by a psychopath as evil and terrible as any I've ever read. Years later the sole survivor is a beautiful 20 something doctoral student who, making herself look plain, does research in a prison on psychopaths. Intricate twists and turns, good guys who are bad become bad boys who are good as the story thunders to a surprise twist where it adds a science fiction aspect to the crime thriller. Lots of good questions here as Erin Palmer and Kyle Hansen, both brilliant scientists, she in psychology and he in quantum computing have to make decisions that may either save or condemn our would. As Boyd Morrison who blurbed it said, it "recalls the best of Michael Crichton." I would have to agree.

I really like the combination of thriller and alien contact which is also seen in one of my favorite books  from 2011, Ultraviolet by R. J. Anderson. It also features horrific crime, questions of the psyche, and alien contact that may be apocalyptic or beneficial.

When Alison awakes in a mental hospital she discovers she has lost more than two weeks of time and memories of what really happened when she had an altercation with the town's golden girl after school one day. Anderson brings together so many themes that have been popular in YA fiction, mental institutions, missing teens, Synesthesia, and more but makes them fresh and different with a science fiction twist.  Because she refuses to admit to her synesthesia and open up she makes little progress in the hospital until a researcher from South Africa who is studying synesthesia appears on the scene. As Alison discovers her perception is not an illness she realizes that she can also taste lies and smell fears. 

It is very difficult to synopsize this extraordinary story but if you like out of the ordinary books you will want to read it. An interesting book to pair with it is Cecil Castellucci's  First Day on Earth.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Just Finished - Killing Custer by Margaret Coel

Things go wrong in a parade in Lander, Wyoming when a troop of historical reenactors costumed like the 7th Cavalry, led by a man looking amazingly like George Armstrong Custer are encircled by a band of Arapaho on horseback from the Wind River reservation. When the commotion dies down, Custer does not get up. He’s been shot. The Arapaho on the dare ride become instant suspects. The Custer impersonator, Edward Garrett has left behind a daughter who lives in the area and a wife who seems to believe she is really Libby Custer. Mrs. Garrett/Custer wants to be sure she gets the $500,000 Garrett had from selling his ranch so she hires Vicky. The thing is, though, the money is missing. Garrett had withdrawn it from the bank. Meanwhile Father John is doing what he can to protect a couple of young Arapaho men who he knows did not kill Garrett from being caught and and all but convicted by a sheriff who thinks he need look no further. The case of a missing lawyer and a young Arapaho woman also play into the story.
         I like mysteries set in the west. The late Tony Hillerman's Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee mysteries are my gold standard. I really enjoy Coel's Vicky Holden, an Arapaho, a lawyer, in the prime of life and Father John O'Malley, a Jesuit priest who has found a home among the people on the reservation.
       It was interesting to read two mysteries within two weeks dealing with Custer reenactors. The other was Death on the Greasy Grass by C. M. Wendelboe.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Just Finished - The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Jennifer Lynn Barnes is highly skilled at writing books that keep the reader turning pages. The Naturals is about a group of teens recruited by the FBI because of amazing crime solving skills they have. Seventeen-year-old Cassie is a natural profiler. Her mother had worked as a medium and Cassie had learned from her until the day five years earlier when her mother disappeared from a blood drenched dressing room. Now Cassie has been invited to live in a group home with other teens who are training to work with the FBI when they reach eighteen. The group home is quite bizarre with potraits of serial killers on the walls and a basement larger than the house that is set up as various crime scenes. The plan is to work on cold cases but Cassie realizes that the case her instructors are working on seem to have a lot in common with her mother's case. An entertaining quick read that will have readers eager for the next book.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Books of the Week - Rose Under Fire, Alien Hunter, Seduction in Silk, Death on the Greasy Grass

From my dearth of posts lately it may look like I've not been reading. I started a new job last week and while I'm still reading, my time for writing reviews and commenting on what I've read has been sparse.

Recent reads I hadn't written about yet include Rose Under Fire an outstanding WWII historical novel by Elizabeth Wein featuring an American woman pilot who ends up in a concentration camp. If you liked (I actually haven't heard of anybody who merely liked) Code Name Verity, one of the very best books of 2012, you will definitely want to read this. The good news is that it is in the stores now so you won't have to wait for this great adventure story.

I also finished Whitley Strieber's Alien Hunter, a thriller that reminded me a little of the 1990s tv show, The First Wave with a protagonist whose wife has disappeared who discovers a network of people who have lost loved ones or maybe themselves experienced things that don't make sense. It features well reasoned paranoia, alien abductions, and decent suspense.

As a fan of Regency era romances, I've enjoyed many of Jo Beverley's books in the past and really enjoyed Seduction in Silk, set in Georgian England a decade before the American Revolution and a generation before her Regencies. Beverley made the era real and vibrant with a low key but very satisfying love story. Its portrayal of life  reminded me somewhat of the  Poldark Saga by Winston Graham. Claris Mallow he daughter of a mad clergyman has moved into a decaying cottage with her grandmother and a servant following the death of her father. Perry Perriam, is willed the long contested family manor by the last in the line of a rival family faction, under the condition he marry Claris. Neither one really wants the marriage but they both want what the marriage will bring them, never suspecting they will fall in love.

While waiting to read Margaret Coel's Killing Custer I picked up C.M. Wendelboe's Death on the Greasy Grass set in the present and in the past. It involves a murder during a re-inactment of the battle called by some the Battle of Little Bighorn, or Custer's Last Stand. A journal kept by one of Custer's Crow scouts, due to be auctioned off seems to be an important clue and maybe even the motive for the first and subsequent murders. I always like books that I feel I have a real life connection to. In family legend, my great-great grandfather was one of the last people to visit the army encampment before the battle. He was a teamster who had a load of supplies for Custer's regiment. He had been warned by Indian friends to not hang around which is why eight years later he was still around to father my great-grandmother.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Passion for Romance

Today at noon Mountain Time. I' be speaking as part of this Booklist Webinar, talking trends in Romance fiction for libraries. I hope to see you there.  One of the cool things about the free Booklist webinars is if you register, even if you can't view it at the scheduled time, you will be able to view the archived file later.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

2013 Books I Love - The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

The Rithmatist
Sanderson, Brandon
Tor Teen 9780765320322

      I originally reviewed this some time ago as I had an early pre-pub review copy. It came out in May and is Sanderson's 1st intentional young adult novel. His Alcatraz books are published as middle grade and the books he's done with Tor are published as adult. However, teens who have discovered him (and adults, too) will read his books no matter what section they are in. At one point, when Alloy of Law came out, the Bistro Book Club seemed to be turning into a Brandon Sanderson fan club.

With the American Isles in danger of being overrun by horrible human eating creatures called chalklings, it is up to the Rithmatists who wield chalk to draw defenses and create their own chalklings, to fight them. Armedius is one of eight academies that educate Rithmatists as well as non-rithmatist students including scions of some of the leading families in the American Isles. Joel is a scholarship student who, even though he is not a Rithmatist, is fascinated by their magic. He tries to observe Rithmatist classes whenever he can and is accomplished at drawing the figures they use for defense but does not have the magic to make them work. When a new professor challenges Joel's favorite teacher to duel strange things start to happen. Sanderson is an outstanding world builder and the rules of magic he has created for this series are fascinating.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Forthcoming Book Alert. The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal.

The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal is very intense, very imaginative, very grim, and as Blythe Woolston mentioned, "mesmerizing."  This is not a book for the squeamish and easily has as much appeal for adults as it does for mature teens. It is the story of a Ava Bingen, a young seamstress, Midi Sorte, a black slave with a tongue that has been split, rendering her mute, and Isabel, a mad queen living in the  Scandinavian kingdom of Skyggehavn. It features some things that are so strange and told so well I know I will remember them for life. It has an abundance of rape, bloodshed, evil machinations, and terrible disease. I've got to say that it is definitely the first "fairy tale about syphilis" I've ever read.  It is not an easy read and definitely not a fun read but is satisfying. The historical note at the end puts the events and customs of the time period into real historical context. Readers of Melina Marchetta's Lumatere Chronicles and Kathleen Duey's A Resurrection of Magic series, who like complex tales set in fully realized but unpleasant worlds will love The Kingdom of Little Wounds. I fully expect this to be a contender for several different awards.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Book of the Week - Quick Fix by Linda Grimes

I really like books that combine paranormal abilities, mystery, romance, and some humor. My favorite combinations of those genres and themes appeared in Linda Lael Miller's Mojo Sheepshanks novels, Deadly Gamble and Deadly Deceptions and in Tanya Huff's Gale family series, The Enchantment Emporium and The Wild Ways. I found the same kind of combination in Linda Grimes' Quick Fix, the second novel following In a Fix that is about Ciel Halligan, an aural adapter, who can shift shape to look like someone else. It is a trait that runs in her family and the family of her mother's best friend as well as a small community of aura adaptors. Ciel uses her talent to help other people with their problems. She morphs herself into the face and form of a shy older woman who wants to be on the board of the National Zoo but is afraid to meet with the grabby guy from whom she needs a recommendation. Ceil enlists the help of her best friend Billy Doyle who will take pictures to use in blackmailing the guy to keep his hands off her client. Billy's much younger sister, age 10, goes along and touches an orangutan and suddenly starts to shift forms. She is way young to begin shifting and besides, aural adaptors can only shift into the form of other people not of animals. In a madcap rush, they steal a stroller and get Molly out of the park and back to New York where they try to hide her and figure out how to get her back into her own shape. Back in the City, Ceil finds a stabbed woman on the floor of Billy's apartment resulting in several adapters working on getting Billy out of jail. It is an entertaining romp with just the right amount of humor, romance, and mystery.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Garden Intrigue by Lauren Willig

The ninth book in Willig’s delightful Pink Carnation series is set in France in 1804 and framed through the research of an American scholar in England in 2004 who has found romance while researching primary documents relating to the 19th century spy, the Pink Carnation. American- born Emma Delagardie, a young widow who attended school with Napoleon’s step-daughter Hortense is volunteered to engineer a masque as entertainment for a house party at the country home of the newly made emperor. Assisting her with the project is flamboyant poet, Augustus Whittlesby know for his sappy doggerel who has been in France for ten years secretly spying for England. Interesting and likable characters, fascinating historical insights, and light romance make this fun. Willig’s research make the setting come alive. As one who loves Georgian and Regency romances, this tale from the same era but set in France instead of England was eminently satisfying. Loved the cameo appearance of Robert Fulton, the inventor of the steam boat, a submarine for Napoleon, and in this book, at least, a machine to make a creditable storm for the stage

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Debut Novels Redoux - Good Kings Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum

Just yesterday I wrote about a couple of debut novels and how important I find reading them. Today I went to write up another novel I read last week, one that was outstanding, one that did not show promise but instead was sure footed enough that I didn't realize it was a debut novel. So, to the list of debut novels that made a lasting impact on me, I add Good Kings Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Debut Novels - Double Feature and The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora

I read two debut novels last week. I'm always looking for great new authors and the next big thing in books. Some of the best novels I've ever read have been debut novels. I spent a year on YALSA's Morris Committee, the committee that selects the winner and up to four honor books for the annual Morris Award for best first young adult novel. The year I was on, there were several terrific books. It was hard to winnow them down to what became our top picks. Some of the books I read that year have remained some of my favorites, including some that did not make the final cut. The award is fairly new, awarded first in 2009. The debuts from the Morris awards that I find myself recommending to adult readers as well as to and that have become favorites include The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolston, Graceling by Kristen Cashore, Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, and The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson.

I try to read debut novels because I always want to find the new authors the readers I advise will like. The debut novels I read last week were Double Feature by Owen King and The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora by Stephanie Thornton. They are both books I can recommend even though I didn't experience the deep connection I felt for the debuts talked about in the previous paragraph, however, since no two people ever read the same book I know they will both be loved by readers who like their types.

Double Feature is written by the son of Stephen King and the brother of Joe Hill but it is not horror. It is more or less a coming of age story even though it takes place over three decades. Sam Dolan, the son of a larger than life B movie actor comes of age as a filmmaker over the course of three decades. The narrative flashes back and forth in time as Sam and his saintly mother are abandoned by his father, to Sam making what he thinks is a masterpiece of a film but that meets with disaster, to being responsible for a pornographic movie turned cult classic that was made with clips from his film interwoven with the sad story of an over-endowed satyr. There are lots of interesting and well told bits in here but it was slow going in the middle. All in all an entertaining read for people who like general fiction with a strong voice and some humor. There is a lot of attention paid to fake noses and penises including a funeral arrangement designed as a giant penis and testicles. This is not really “my” genre so I’m stretching for read-a-likes but there were a few, very few, instances that brought Carl Hiaasen or Dave Barry to mind as well as some that made me think of Nick Hornby.

The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora  by Stephanie Thornton is a promising debut with believable historical details. 
 I’ve long been fascinated with the Byzantine Empress Theodora who started out as a whore. As an undergraduate art major I saw a slide of a detail of a mosaic in Ravenna, Italy that had a picture of her that has ever after haunted me. Theodora’s young years were fascinating but in the last half  I did get somewhat bogged down. Throughout, though, I felt like I was getting a well studied and authentic view of life in 6th century Byzantium with social structures, politics, and life styles. Thornton made me care  about Theodora and the details of her world were fascinating. I liked that an author’s note and list of references as well as discussion questions were included. I would suggest this to readers who liked Robert Graves’ I Claudius.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Book of the Week - The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

If you haven't read Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Boys, you may want to run out and buy it (or borrow it from your library). It was one of the very best books of 2012 and its sequel is quite different but totally compelling. The Dream Thieves will be coming out in September and if you like complex, twisty, speculative fiction, you will not want to miss this series.

The Dream Thieves
Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic  2013 - September
Dreams of power and dreams of fright punctuate Stiefvater’s magical followup to The Raven Boys. Blue is sort of dating Adam but refuses to kiss him because of the curse she’s heard her whole life. Roman steals and wrecks Gansey’s beloved Pig, but does he really? Amidst a swirling churning constantly changing back drop of two worlds, Blue, Adam, Roman, and Gansey learn secrets about themselves They encounter dragons and nightmare monsters, a sleeping beauty, and those who can steal objects out of dreams. The Gray Man hunts for the Greywaren but finds something else in the psychics in Blue’s house.  Virginia is at its most surrealistic as strangeness permeates the town of Henrietta.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Thriller Week - The King by Steven James and A Tap on the Window by Linwood Barclay

Last week/week-end when I ran out of gigs on my Verizon mifi, I had to go offline for 4 days. Fortunately there were lots of books to keep me going. I ended up craving thrillers and found some good ones, started some duds. You won't see the duds here because there is just way too little time to waste on books not being enjoyed much less to for the abundance of great reads out there.

The King
James, Steven
Signet 2013

After meeting his fiancee Lien-hua Jiang, an FBI profiler, for a picnic dinner in a park, Patrick Bowers and his step-daughter Tessa leave not knowing a serial killer is lurking in Lien-hua’s car. The resourceful Lien-hua fights  Basque when he starts to carve her up and manages to escape but is hit by a car. As she lies in intensive care, Pat, who is an expert in geospacial intelligence, uses his skills to track Richard Devin Basque, a hideous killer who ate parts of his victims when they were still alive, who he had arrested fourteen years earlier but had been released from prison. Meanwhile a vicious couple witnesses a man commit suicide and then torture another with pruning sheers. This fast moving combination of searches for a serial killer and an international drug counterfeiting ring is unputdownable. Even thought it is the seventh in the Bowers Files series, expert character building and the smooth integration of the backstory make this an addicting book that will have readers wanting to read the rest of the series.

A Tap on the Window

Barclay, Linwood
NAL 2013
On a rainy evening, private detective Cal Weaver is stopped at a traffic light near Patchett’s, the local dive that has no reluctance to serve underage drinkers, when a teenage girl taps on his window and asks for a ride. She says her name is Claire and that she knew his son Scott who had died two months earlier. Against his better instincts he agrees to give her a ride home. On the way she demands he pull into a little fast food joint because she is going to be sick. After waiting some time for her he goes in looking for her but doesn’t find her. Upon returning to his car he finds her already there but as they are driving away he realizes she is no longer soaked to the skin and that a nasty scratch on her arm is gone. When interrogating her to what is happening she threatens to jump from the moving car so he lets her out. Later a cop shows up at his house questioning him about the disappearance of the mayor’s daughter, Claire. Cal and his wife are losing each other as they grieve for their son. Cal loses himself in investigating the case of the missing girl whose father claims is not missing. Barclay demonstrates his mastery of pacing, accelerating the action while revealing the essence of the characters. Underlying everything is the conflict between Cal's brother-in-law who is the chief of police and the mayor who are at odds. The conflict over whether the cops are over reaching by acting as judge, jury, and executioner (of sentences not individuals) has polarized the town. Cal is growing ever more distant from his wife who spends all her time drawing portraits of their son as he goes close to the edge in trying to discover who gave his son the drugs that were in his system when he took the plunge to his death. More Linwood Barclay thrillers are in my future.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Yes! We Are Latinos by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy

Yes! We Are Latinos

by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy, illustrated by David Diaz
Charlesbridge ISBN: 978-1-58089-383-1 96p. $18.95(plb) 2013

Covering the breadth of what it means to be Latino in the US, Flor and Campoy start each chapter with a statement of who is telling his or her story told in verse.

My Name Is José Miguel--not Joe, not Mike. I am Cuban and Nicaraguan. I live in Tampa, Florida. I am Latino.  
My Name Is Mónica. I am from El Salvador. I live in Houston. I am Texan. I am Latina.

Interspersed with verse narratives are chapters that place the history, culture, accomplishments, and  challenges of that particular flavor of Latino in context. As a Latina who reads extensively, I was happily surprised to learn about the diversity of Latinos in the US. For the first time I was exposed to segments of the Latino population and their history that I knew nothing of. I did not know about the generations of Chinese and Japanese in Latin America or the Latino grandchildren of those who fled Spain during the time of Franco. All my life I’ve looked for books and stories about my Hispanic, Hispano,  Español, Native American roots and was so happy to see them presented in the last poem, 
Román’s story that illuminates the culture that has been in northern New Mexico for over 400 years. I was also thrilled to learn about the mural, Mundos de mestizaje: The Miracle Wall. It was created by an artist who shares the same last name as three of my great-grandparents and now I must go see it the next time I visit the primos in New Mexico. 

This is a fascinating and important book that belongs in every school library.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Book of the Week - Written in Red by Anne Bishop

Meg is fleeing a horrible captivity that is revealed in suspenseful measured steps. Her riveting story starts in the midst of a storm when she goes to the Lakeside Courtyard, a place where humans interact with the "Others,"  the native beings of the planet.  Each courtyard has a human liaison and this one needs to hire one. The liaison's job is to be the intermediary between humans and Others, to accept mail and deliveries and distribute it to the intended recipients and to preserve the uneasy alliance between humans and Others.. The job does have its drawbacks, particularly that Others consider humans to be meat. There are several different kinds of Others including those who are analogous to werewolves, werebears, vampires, as well as elemental creatures. Howling Good Reads, a bookstore plays a big role in the goings on in Lakeside. As Meg worms her way into the hearts of the residents with her kindness and practical nature she befriends Sam, a traumatized wolf pup, stuck in his wolf form which is causing huge problems. Meg is on the run because she has a secret that makes her capture extremely profitable to whom ever finds her and turns her in. The world building is exquisite from the conflict between humans and the myriad different forms of individuals who make up the Others, to politics, sticky relationships,  mythology, and blood profits.

The powerful enthralling story telling and the intense relationships shoot this to the top of my list of best books of the year.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Bomb Shelters in Fallout by Todd Strasser and Is This Tomorrow by Caroline Leavitt

It is always interesting the coincidences that pop up in reading. The most recent one to hit me was reading the middle grade Fallout by Todd Strasser set in 1962 when American school kids had bomb drills and families thought about bomb shelters and Is This Tomorrow by Caroline Leavitt, an adult novel that starts in 1956. Both stories tend toward the grim but give a good look at suburbia of the era.

In the early 1960s my dad and uncle decided that we needed a bomb shelter in our house. It was supposed to be a big secret so they made a hatch in a closet and dropped down to the crawl space where they dug a hole that I remember as being about 10 X 10X 10. That was a lot of dirt to remove and I remember we kids distributing over our backyard bucket by bucket. We ended up moving to Okinawa before it was finished and forgot all about it until reading these books.

In Strasser's book, the sirens go off and the reasons for secrecy on the part who have bomb shelters comes to the fore when Scott's family is mobbed when going to the shelter. Over the next weeks, in a tiny space meant for 4 people and never fully provisioned, a number of people fight for survival. To me, the book is way to grim for ten-year-olds although they are often far more resilient than adults.

Leavitt's book about a divorcee with a young son tries to live the American dream but the facts that she is divorced and Jewish make her an outsider. Her son Lewis becomes friends with the only other fatherless kids in the neighborhood, Rose and Billy, a brother and sister. Billy goes missing when the boys are twelve having a profound effect on Lewis, his mother Ava, and Rose who moves away.

Other books I can think of in which bomb shelters play an important role are Farnham's Freehold by Robert A. Heinlein and The Compound by S. A. Bodeen.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


I've been invited to be a Riffle expert so I've been playing around with it a bit. Haven't figured the link to my lists but here is a list I put together yesterday.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Reading Plan - Week 3 - Story Collections

I'm reposting this in honor of tomorrow's book birthday of David Lubar's Extremities. He wrote about Extremities' long road to publication on his web site and this tied right into what he was saying.

Story collections are becoming more popular. Is it because readers, accustomed to quick reads on the net, are wanting their stories in smaller bites? Do they want to get in and out of a story in small time segments. I'm finding it a welcome trend because access to short stories has been much harder in the past few years as magazines stopped publishing short fiction and so many magazines stopped publishing. Short stories have a long tradition in Speculative Fiction so it is no surprise that the new story collections I found both fall into that broad genre.  I'm not going to talk about anthologies, collections of stories by different authors, right now but there have also been some that are great reads in the last year. 

One of the characteristics of story collections is that readers will usually find some stories they connect to and others that don't make as much of an impression. The interesting thing is, that because reading is a creative endeavor shared by writer and reader, no two people ever experience a story in the same way.  Different readers will like different stories.

For his week of my reading plan,  I read two different collections, both speculative fiction, by authors I have always enjoyed. Flying in the Heart of the Lafayette Escadrille by James Van Pelt is for adults and mature teens. Extremities is published for teens.

David Lubar, author of the Weenies series of short story collections for middle grade children, is the author of Extremities: Tales of Death Murder, and Revenge a collection of thirteen creepy stories perfect for the slightly older middle school audience. He also injects his punning humor, particularly in the story "Split Decision." Some of the stories are period pieces complete with video stores and cassettes. "Whoodoo" a short short flash fiction type, as well as several of the other stories have an urban legend feel. The final tale, "Evil Twin" is extremely memorable, (I had a nightmare after reading it) a fitting wrap up to the collection that will have readers wanting more.

Flying in the Heart of the Lafayette Escadrille is the fourth collection by James Van Pelt who has often been a finalist for major SF awards and is way past due. In my opinion he is one of the best if not the best writer of speculative fiction short stories writing today. This book was a procrastiread for me. I rationed myself to one story a day from it. Stories include range from science fiction, to horror, and fantasy. Fewer stories in this collection featured teachers than I remember from his other collections but his stories that do deal with students, teachers, and school are compelling. I really enjoyed the short short story, “Just Before Recess” in which a boy finds a sun in his desk and a grouchy teacher gets what may be his just rewards. “O Tannenbaum” combines the story of Christmas during World War I when the soldiers from both sides joined in a brief cessation of hostilities to celebrate the day but the protagonist is a young man whose life is lived on a very different scale that that of others. A couple of the stories are told from an alien point of view, “Working the Moon Circuit” is set in a tourist destination on the moon where the tourists don human bodies to experience it as a human. “Plant Life” is a truly creepy tale of fruit, fully responsive and grown in the shape of a woman, to be used for a short time. “One in a Thousand” is truly horrifying as a man dreams of deaths, night after night, and when he is away discovers that the people who died in his dreams, die, too, in the waking world. Very Twilight Zone!
“Mrs. Hatcher’s Evaluation” is also terrifying but in a completely different way. It is about a terrific teacher who actually teaches in a way that students learn but is not playing the political game our schools are currently immersed in, so is on the figurative chopping block. “Ark Ascension” is set in an ark, orbiting the earth in a last ditch effort to save life as we know it after species on earth experience disaster mutagens resulted in a “catastrophic species shift.”  So many more wonderful, scary, thought provoking stories. Definitely worth reading.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Meme Plague by Angie Smibert

The Meme Plague
Angie Smibert
Amazon                2013

    In the concluding entry in the highly addictive Memento series, the major characters Nora, Micah, Winter, and Aiden are fighting against the new identity chip being forced on everyone as the tendrils of a massive conspiracy change life as we know it. Nora has forgotten much as she is torn between her parents’ two very different homes, Micah learns more about his parentage, and Memento is reborn as a web comic. Smibert’s break neck pacing and the jumping from character to character make this an un-put-downable book complete with rallies and riots. This series features a beautifully conceived paranoid future where change is hard because every memory can be easily expunged. Is it better to forget or to be miserable because something bad happened? Looking forward to sharing this with teens, especially Jack who’s review of Memento Nora was “OH. MY. GOD. I loved this book! this is probably the most suspenseful book i have ever read!”

The Meme Plague goes on sale in August.
Science Fiction. Dystopia

Monday, July 8, 2013

Shallow Pond by Alissa Grosso

Things don't quite add up for Barbara "Babie" Bunting, the youngest of the three orphaned Bunting sisters who live in the small town of Shallow Pond. If it weren't for their age differences they would look like identical triplets. Barbara really wants to get out and has plans for college. She doesn't want to stick around and throw away her life as she thinks her 26 year old sister, Annie, has done. Things start happening when a new boy moves to town with the unlikely story that as an infant he had been left on the steps of a convent and been raised by nuns. He has a mysterious benefactor who has moved him to Shallow Pond to finish out his senior year of high school. Meanwhile the man who as a boy had broken Annie's heart, in Babie's eyes, has returned and started dating Gracie, the middle sister. She should have had memories of the mother who supposedly died after Babie was born but doesn't. The stately pace of this book gives readers the chance to ponder what makes us us; genetic makeup? date of birth? nurture?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Workshops and Programs BSP

I'm going to be in Florida presenting the first week of August. If your library, library system, school district, or library consortium would like to have me present a program or workshop, I still have some availability. To sweeten the deal, your library would not have to pay my travel expenses.