Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sentinel

Sentinel

By Matthew Dunn
William Morrow, 2012. 313 pgs. Fiction

Tensions are brewing between the United States and Russia and a double British agent in the Russia submarine division has uncovered a plot that one of Britain’s own is setting things in motion to create war between the countries. Special agent Will Crochrane is called in to rendezvous with the agent to vary the information, only to find the agent brutally stabbed and with his last breathe saying only Sentinel can stop it. It’s up to Will to find Sentinel and of course, save the world from nuclear warfare.  

This second installment in the Spycatcher series has tighter editing and more realistic outcomes (unlike in Spycatcher, when Will was shot in the stomach three times and two days later flying out on a mission with some pain killers. But than again, we expect that of Bond, so why not all agents?) Unfortunately with that, Dunn also has softened up Will’s character a bit, but I think Will will turn around by the next novel. Don’t get me wrong, I still thoroughly enjoyed the book and look forward eagerly to the next installment. One of the best new series I have read this year.

KK

If I Lie

If I Lie
By Corrine Jackson
Simon Pulse, 2012. 276 pgs. Young Adult

Quinn has grown up in a military community, right near a Marine base, where the townspeople's military service goes back generations. So when a picture of Quinn making out with a guy who is not her boyfriend--shortly before her boyfriend is deployed to Afghanistan--goes viral, she quickly becomes the town pariah, and matters only get worse when Carey, her boyfriend, goes MIA in the middle of trying to save a child. Quinn longs to be able to tell the truth--that she didn't betray Carey and things are not as they seem--but she promised him to keep a secret that she'd have to give away in order to clear her own name. With all of her friends angry with her, her Marine father severely disappointed in her, and with her and the mysterious guy from the photo knowing they can't be together, Quinn's only solace comes in visiting the Veterans hospital and working with George, a crusty old vet, on the Veterans History project where they record stories from other vets, and learning photography from him.

Wow. Jackson does a great job connecting many story lines--Quinn's relationship with Carey, her relationship with the mystery boy, her relationships with each of her parents, and her relationship with George, and the back story behind all of those relationships--without bogging down the pacing of the story. There are some very thought-provoking themes and discussion points. The writing is fluid, the characters are realistic, and the relationships are very, very well written. Some content and language might make it more appropriate for mature readers, but other than that, this is one that I recommend wholeheartedly.

AE

Uneasy Fortunes

Uneasy Fortunes
By Mandi Ellsworth
Sweetwater Books, 2012. 233 pgs. Historical Fiction

After his abusive father's drunken death, Pete worked for years to pay back his father's debts. Now, having finally paid back everything owed, and with the impending wedding of his boss's daughter--the object of Pete's affection--he decides it's time for him to move on in life. He winds up on the Betteridge farm, where he enjoys working alongside Mr. Betteridge. He isn't quite sure what to make of Mr. Betteridge's prickly elder daughter, June, though. With a son and but no husband, she's clearly been hurt and pushes Pete away at every chance she gets. However, when an accident befalls her father, June is forced to work with Pete for the good of the farm--and both find that maybe they've found a chance to truly start over.

Somewhat predictable and with some passages that do much more summarizing than I enjoy, this book was tolerable but didn't distinguish itself from the many other similar books on the market. For die-hard fans of historical romance, this could still be a satisfactory choice.

AE

Monday, October 22, 2012

Feedback

Feedback
By Robison Wells
HarperTeen, 2012. 312 pgs. Young Adult

In this sequel to Variant, Benson and Becky have escaped from Maxfield Academy, but just barely. With Becky seriously injured and them having no idea where they are or how far it is to safety, they are desperate to avoid being recaptured. Against his better judgement, Benson takes Becky to a town his discovers--a town where his schoolmates reside, a town where he finds that several of his classmates were actually robot duplicates of real people living in the town. Although he still wants to escape completely, Benson is no longer confident that he knows how, as he comes to realize that he's up against something much bigger than he realized.

I really enjoyed Variant, but Feedback just wasn't as appealing to me. There was a lot of worrying, fighting against bad robots, and not a whole lot more. The plot felt very cyclical to me, and once the twist at the end was finally revealed, it pretty much lost my interest entirely. It will still appeal to fans of sci-fi and teen guys, but I didn't like it nearly as much as the first book.

AE

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Long Lankin

Long Lankin
by Lindsey Barraclough
Candlewick, 2012. 455 pgs. Young Adult

     Long Lankin is a fearsome British folk character, who with a conspiring nurse, crept into the manor and killed its lady. He was hung in a gibbet and the nurse burned at the stake. And what does this have to do with Cora and Mimi, sent to their great aunt Ida's by their slacker father? Long Lankin, caught between worlds, is still about and "lives" near the church by Aunt Ida's home, Guerdon Hall, the Guerdons cursed by the nurse as she died.   Ida herself has lost family to the monster, and forbids the children to go near the church or to stay in the house with any window open or the doors unbolted. Long Lankin  is a fine, atmospheric horror story. The suspense builds slowly and richly as the narrative is assembled from multiple points of view--Cora's, her friend Roger's, Aunt Ida herself, and a collection of old letters and clues near the graveyard itself.  Plus, there are other evidences:  a ghostly young woman in the attic, singing Long Lankin's ballad, sightings of a manlike creature with a terrible smell dragging himself through the grass, and the missing children in the graveyard, still themselves but barely. Recommended for older teens who will have the patience for the foundation to be laid and the fearsomeness to build to the breakneck conclusion, and for adults who like a great old-fashioned Halloween read.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Death at the Chateau Bremont: A Verlaque and Bonnet Mystery

Death at the Chateau Bremont: A Verlaque and Bonnet Mystery
By M. L. Longworth
Penguin, 2011, 320 pages. Mystery

√Čtienne de Bremont is found dead beneath a window at his country Chateau, unsettling the city of Aix-en-Provence where the count was well loved and respected. The death has all the appearance of an accident, but to those who knew the nobleman the circumstances become increasingly mysterious. How could Etienne, a natural athlete from boyhood, have stumbled out of a window he knew so well? Verlaque, a seductive, dark-eyed judge, and Marine Bonnet, an elegant law professor, investigate these curious inconsistencies and slowly get drawn into the case. Readers not only get a suspenseful mystery, but also a romance, and a rich, luxuriously evoked setting.

To me, this novel is barely about the mystery: it is about Provence. One almost gets the feeling that the mystery was simply an excuse for Longworth to write about her love affair with France; and what a literary and beautiful affair it is. The book is steeped in atmospheric French cafes, vintage wines, and fine cuisine; perfect for anyone who loves Provence or desperately desires to visit. I suggest pairing it with whatever French music you have (or the French Café station on Pandora) and finishing it on a cozy chair all in one sitting. Fortunately for anyone else who may fall in love with Verlaque, Bonnet, and the Aixois, the second book in the series was just published: Murder on the Rue Dumas. Highly Recommended.

JM

The Existence of Sasquatch and Yeti

The Existence of Sasquatch and Yeti
By Carol Hand
ABDO, 2012. 112 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

Carol Hand discusses the mysteries surrounding Sasquatch and Yeti. She describes some sightings, photographs, and videos of alleged Sasquatch and Yeti, as well as their acceptance by indigenous cultures in their areas. She describe the efforts of cryptozoologists to study the creatures, as well as the problems with conducting scientific research on these creatures. This book also includes opinions of skeptics and theories about what the creatures are. This is a great introduction to these cryptids, and it will likely have readers anxious to do some research of their own into sightings, videos, and photos of the creatures. A good choice for reluctant readers and fans of unsolved mysteries.

AE

Monday, October 15, 2012

Safekeeping

Safekeeping
By Karen Hesse
Feiwel and Friends, 2012. 294 pgs. Young Adult

Radley is in Haiti helping at an orphanage when she gets word that the U.S. has pretty much gone crazy. The president has been assassinated and anyone who opposes the American People's Party has been imprisoned. Radley heads back to the U.S. and finds, as her plane lands in New Hampshire, that she doesn't have the proper clearance to travel to her home in Vermont. She sets out on foot and walks home, only to find that her parents are gone and she has no way to find them. With the unrest in the country, and knowing that her parents were among those who opposed the American People's Party, she suspects they have been arrested, a suspicion that is confirmed when the police start stopping by her house. She manages to evade them and decides to head to Canada, once more on foot, since she can't get any sort of authorization to go legally. Along the way, she becomes adept at finding food in dumpsters and hiding from everyone. Along the way, though, she ends up meeting Celia, another girl looking for escape, and the two of them journey to Canada and try to find safety.

This book is much less about the problems of a corrupt government, which is what anticipated based on the book jacket's description, than it is about survival and friendship. Hesse never fully explains why the government has reached the point that it's at, so readers looking for that type of story will be disappointed. However, she does show what it's like to be displaced, homeless, and scared in the aftermath of a government breakdown, as well as the determination to survive and hope for a better future, which will be appreciated by thoughtful readers who are more interested in character development than plot.

AE

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher . . .

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher:  The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis
by Timothy Egan
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. 370 pgs.  Biography.

Edward S. Curtis lost his family and his fortune, but kept his sacred honor in his unwavering quest to record the rapidly disappearing tribal life, customs, language, and lore of the American Indian at the turn of the 19th century. After Curtis photographed "Princess Angeline," the eldest and last remaining child of Chief Seattle who had become a beggar woman living in Seattle's filthy shantytown, he put his hand to the plow and rarely looked back. As a result of his single-minded sacrifice we now  have portraits of Geronimo, Chief Joseph, a photograph of three Indians who had been present at the Battle of the Little Big Horn and who gave Curtis the true account of what happened that day, not to mention twenty volumes of photographs and text cataloging the now-lost lives and cultures of Native Americans from the desert Southwest to Alaska. Curtis was a prophet with scarcely any honor and no wealth in his own time. His unique and irreplaceable "The North American Indian" series sold for $5,000 in his day, when it sold at all. Now each remaining set is worth millions if, indeed, any value can be placed on such a seminal and revelatory work. Egan's biography is deeply engaging and powerful, the story of the right man doing the right thing, just in the nick of time.

LW

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Mobile Wave: How Mobile Intelligence Will Change Everything



By Michael Saylor
Vanguard Press, 2012. 279 pgs.Nonfiction
Mobile Wave predicts the consequences of mobile internet technology in a wide spectrum of fields: education, entertainment, social networks, medicine, etc. Author Michael Saylor gives abundant examples of how mobile phones and other mobile devices can someday be used for financial transactions, tracking personal vital signs for medical conditions and more.  He maintains that the transformations may be difficult but many of them will be very positive – eliminating corruption and fraud and saving money.  Quality education will become available via mobile technology to millions of people around the world who presently lack access to adequate schools.  

Technology savvy readers have probably already been reading about the impact of mobile technology and won’t find much that is new in Michael Saylor’s book. But for the not so tech savvy person, this book is the perfect introduction to what the availability of cheap mobile devices and widespread broadband access will do to society, business and the economy. SH

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Crown of Embers

The Crown of Embers
By Rae Carson
Greenwillow Books, 2012. 410 pgs. Young Adult

Elisa has saved the people of Joya d'Arena from an invasion of Invierne and has started to understand more about her role as a bearer of the Godstone. However, with the death of her husband, she has become the ruler of Joya d'Arena and not everyone likes the idea of having a 17-year-old foreigner as their queen. With attempts on her life, enemies both within and without the country and even her own court, and only bits and pieces of prophecies about the Godstone bearers that need to be interpreted and understood, Elisa's life and her country are in just as much danger as ever. Determined to become the queen her people need her to be, Elisa sets off on a journey to discover more about her Godstone and the power it holds, all the while trying to maintain her tenuous hold on her throne and figure out what to do when she falls in love with a man she can never have.

This sequel to The Girl of Fire and Thorns is just as gripping as the first book and it will likely have fans screaming out loud at where and how the book ends, as they are stuck waiting for the next book. Block out a few hours where you can read it in one sitting because once you pick it up, you won't want to put it down. Elisa's struggle with her faith, with her own confidence, and with deciding who she can trust is riveting and the romance angle will have readers wishing for the impossible. This is a great choice for fans of high fantasy.

AE

The Final Four

The Final Four
by Paul Volponi
Viking, 2012. 244 pgs. Young Adult

The Final Four of this title refers not only to the March Madness of the NCAA Tournament, but to four young men playing against each other in a classic matchup between perennial powerhouse Michigan State and Cinderella school, Troy University, in a fictional but furious matchup. Malcolm McBride is the one and done freshman, playing only long enough to secure an NBA contract, and outspoken in his criticism of big money collegiate sports, with none of the money going to the athletes. Roko Bacic is a refugee from Croatia and the Balkan wars who has had to leave his family behind to play in the United States. Michael Jordan struggles with the legacy of a famous name without matching skills, and Crispin Rice is engaged to be married to a Troy cheerleader who has become the school's good luck charm. Radio play-by-play takes the ball game to a breathtaking conclusion and then through four overtimes, all the while giving background about each of the four young men. Malcolm is from the projects and his sister has recently been killed in a drive-by shooting. Roko's uncle and basketball tutor is also dead, killed by terrorists. Michael works hard in school and on the court but is not often included in Malcolm's self-centered offense, and Crispin keeps catching "his girl" making moves on other guys. Volponi skillfully blends backgrounds and basketball in an exciting, rich narrative of this beautiful game and the nuanced characters and backgrounds of the young men who play.  Highly recommended.

LW

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Casual Vacancy


The Casual Vacancy
by J. K. Rowling
Little, Brown, 2012, 512pgs. Fiction


Barry Fairbrother, a charismatic champion of the poor, dies suddenly from an aneurism and leaves the small town of Pagford in shock. His death has repercussions on everyone, his wife and family of course, but also on the town’s politics and even on family dynamics in isolated parts of town. The story chronicles a huge cast of characters as they deal with the daily goings-on of life: trying to keep their relationships and families together, upholding their ideals, and growing up. The book is largely a social commentary on class differences, the politics of addiction, and the ways in which we can affect the people around us.

For those looking for a Harry Potter read-alike, this is most definitely not it. The Casual Vacancy is gritty, full of sex and violence, and largely devoid of hope or whimsy. On the other hand, those looking for a wry commentary on modern life, who love deeply flawed characters, and slow, detail-oriented works, may take delight in this book. Personally, I found the ending to be unnecessarily tragic, and many of the ‘adult’ aspects to be over-the-top, but Rowling’s classic wit did prevail, and her biting commentary on the characters was worthwhile in and of itself.

I would recommend this book for lovers of English literature and die-hard J. K. Rowling fans, but that's pretty much it.

JM

Monday, October 1, 2012

Sutton

Sutton
by J. R. Moehlinger
Hyperion, 2012. 334 pgs. Historical fiction.

Willie Sutton was a bank robber, one of the best ever, and he was nearly as adept at "crashing out" of prison as he was at doing the things that got  him thrown in there in the first place.  In J. R. Moehlinger's fine new historical novel, Willie reviews his life and times in a one day--Christmas day--tour with a reporter and a photographer the day after he is released from prison for the last time. Much is imagined here, since Sutton's two memoirs contradict each other, but Moehlinger has not only a fine sense of what Willie's life may--even, must--have been like as well as a deeply engaging prose style. He brings back to life Depression-era America, sounds, sights, and speech. Willie is a deeply-engaging, sympathetic character in these pages. The reader begins pulling for him very quickly, just as his fellow-citizens cheered him on as the Robin Hood of his time and place. Besides, he loved to read.

LW