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.