Monday, October 20, 2014

The Thirteenth Tower, by Sara C. Snider

Emelyn is a young orphan, abandoned as an infant at the doorstep of a fairly well to do family in a small village.  She is raised, not unkindly but without love, in this household as a servant.  She is lonely and longs to know more about the family she will likely never meet. 

But the sameness of her days changes suddenly when a pied piper-type of musician comes fiddling down the lane, hypnotizing all the villagers into following. Emelyn seems to be the only one who is not under the spell, but she goes along at the insistence of her only friend, a fellow servant girl. Emelyn realizes that something is terribly wrong and that some of those at the festival are not human at all. When one of the strange creatures grabs her in a threatening way, she is surprised and relieved that a stranger strikes the imp with a club, continuing to swing it til the other imps left standing skulk off into the night.

The stranger, a young man named Corran, introduces himself.  He has come to the town at the time of the festival seeking work.  He and Emelyn join forces with two Magisters, seemingly superior humans with some magical powers of their own.  With the town's population now having disappeared there seems no choice but to travel with the Magi, who are going north to try to weaken whatever power is sending the strange creatures into the civilized towns.  The Magi note that Emelyn is not bewitched by the strange creatures and intimate that they know her parents and can help her reconnect.

There is good and evil in this world, but the evil is not well defined, or at least it's a little too nuanced for me. Though the two Magi are mysterious, even ominous, they don't try to destroy her. They even attempt to teach her their own style of magic, as they sense that she has latent and untapped powers that she doesn't know how to use. In the end we see them use their power against her parents, but they explain that  they had thought it was for a higher purpose.

I expect that there will be a sequel or two where Emelyn's powers will be unleashed and hopefully harnessed for good purposes. This book lays the groundwork for a brighter future, but for now she remains on her own.

I got an e-copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley.

Crossing the Line, by Frederique Molay, translated by Anne Trager

Le French Book's Anne Trager has translated and published the second of Frederique Molay's Paris Homicide Mysteries, Crossing The Line, in English. Published in France originally in 2011, the police procedural/murder mystery/psycho thriller, features Chief Nico Sirsky, who still leads a team of elite crime professionals, in spite of the fact that he is just coming out of intense physical therapy after having suffered a gunshot wound in a battle during his last case.

Trager's translation flows smoothly and the descriptions of Paris sites and neighborhoods ring true to those who have enjoyed Paris in movies, books, or in person.

Back in the office, Sirsky is faced with a jewelry heist that his bosses want cleared quickly, and a bizarre new case, or is it a prank?  A medical student working with a head culled from a cadaver left to the medical training school is startled to discover a message left in an unsightly filling in a tooth.  The message says, "I was murdered."

The cadaver does not remain anonymous long, as the medical facility keeps meticulous records of donated bodies, and it is not long before the team has established that the individual was indeed murdered. The family of the individual had assumed suicide as the person had seemed very tense and anxious before the death occurs at his home.  Before long a recent accident is discovered which has apparently taken the life of an old acquaintance of the first victim, and soon it is noted that a couple of other medical professionals have apparently died in a boating accident. Hmmm.

Attentive and creative police work, including researching old blogs pursuing the "six degrees of separation" theory, connects some seemingly random deaths of medical personnel, and before long, Nico has a complicated case to resolve.

Thanks to Le French books for a chance to enjoy this second Paris Homicide Mystery.  I look forward to more!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Magician's Lie, by Greer Macallister

The Magician's Lie is a story told over the course of one night by the magician herself.  She is telling her story to the lawman who has captured her as she is running away from what he is sure is the scene of the crime where she has killed her husband. 

Virgil Holt is the lawman.  He is aware of  Arden's abilities because he has seen her performance that very night in Waterloo, Iowa. It is a performance  in which she performs the shocking  illusion of cutting a man in half.  Soon after the show a body is discovered in the theater basement, lifeless and blooded by the ax used in the performance.

He is the lone police officer from the small town of Janesville, Iowa, and he has traveled three-fourths of the way there on horseback when she unexpectedly walks into the cafe where he has stopped. Janesville is where he takes her, expecting to extract a confession pretty quickly.

But Arden seems unaware of the murder or even the identity of who has been killed.  She begins to tell a detailed and fascinating story of her childhood, her mother and father, and the frightening evil presence that enters her life as she enters her teen years.  Virgil can't help but be caught up in her story, even as he doubts whether it is true or simply a ruse like all the illusions he has seen her perform. 

Though she is handcuffed, both arms and ankles, with multiple  pair of handcuffs, Virgil still has the uncomfortable feeling that maybe she can escape, and maybe she knows more about him than he has revealed. Is she reading his mind, or simply a good reader of people's faces?  Regardless, he begins to sense that she could help him with his unique troubles just as she has apparently used the power to heal herself from injuries that she has sustained at various times in her life.  Would she trade a life changing favor to him for her freedom?

The story of the making of a talented and creative illusionist is reminiscent of  Water For Elephants, in the sense that a fascinating tale is told from the vantage point of a narrator who was actually there, but is now at another critical juncture in life, so both tales, past and present, must be resolved by the end of the book.  This task is performed very well indeed by author Greer Macallister.  

It is a murder mystery, a love story, a poignant tale of good and evil with perhaps a touch of magic, but is any of it true?  The book is due in stores January 2015, and I think it will be very much worth your time, so be on the lookout for it!

The Adventures of Eddie Fung, edited by Judy Yung

This unique and charming biography is written in Eddie's voice. The book, The Adventures of Eddie Fung,  comes about because Judy Yung, a professor and historian, needs to interview someone who could give a Chinese perspective on the years of World War II for the Chinese American history articles she was writing.  An American Army officer suggested that she talk to Eddie, who has the distinction of being the only Chinese American who survived the ordeal of being a Japanese prisoner of war.

Judy found Eddie to be a natural story teller and soon decided that his entire life was worthy of recording for posterity.  She visited with him several times over a period of months, recording hours of interviews covering the different segments of Eddie's interesting life.  Along the way, Eddie proposed marriage, and Judy agreed, but she continued with this project so that Eddie's story would be told.

His parents were immigrants from China but Eddie and his brother and sisters were born in the United States.  His family lived in Chinatown in San Francisco in a very close knit community.  As a teenager though, Eddie longed for adventure, and having seen a few western movies, he decided to move to Texas and become a cowboy.  Though the ranchers he worked for knew he had no experience, they gave him a chance and he proved to be a quick learner and a hard worker.  After a couple of years he met a recruiter and decided to join the Army.  Since he was a minor, the Army wrote his mom, who refused to give her permission.  But Eddie found a way, and eventually joined a National Guard unit.  The Texas National Guard Unit was activated shortly before the US entered the war and was shipped off to Java.  Their battalion was captured by the Japanese almost immediately and they became known eventually as The Lost Battalion.  Their destination was Burma, where they were forced as prisoners of war to build the railroad to Siam through the rugged tropical jungle.  This horrific experience was commemorated in the epic film, Bridge Over the River Kwai. They spent forty-two months in the captivity of the Japanese.

Those who survived were starving and many suffered from jungle diseases by the time they were freed.  Eddie was one of those survivors.  Because they had shared this horrific experience, The Lost Battalion survivors began to gather annually for reunions which continue to this day.

A key part of WWII history, Eddie's story offers a unique perspective of survival and loyalty to one's "Band of Brothers."

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The One and Only, by Emily Giffin

It took me a long time to finish this one.  The premise is that a seemingly capable and accomplished young woman who is making her way in the man's world of college football is also making lots of bad choices in the romance department.  And in fact the only reasonable choice seems to be acting on her secret crush on the college football coach, the recently widowed father of her best friend since childhood.

The irony of the title is that Shea has had multiple sexual relationships with men of her age group, but love is not a requisite for intimacy in her world.  And the men who she has enjoyed relationships with have, in one case a drug habit and zero ambition, or in another, perhaps a tendency to abuse women who displease him, and whether that is true or false, a definite need to control.

So the Coach certainly looks great by comparison.  He really is a good man but it is hard to ignore the fact that she is the age of his own daughter, who is anything but pleased with the thought of an intimate relationship between her best friend and her father.

And the ick factor kind of gets to me too...

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Deadly Tasting, by Jean-Pierre Alaux & Noel Balen, translated from French by Sally Pane

Another in the Winemaker Detective Mystery Series, Deadly Tasting is translated from French and features wine connoisseur Benjamin Cooker and his assistant Virgile, who help the gendarmes piece through the obscure clues left at grisly murder scenes in Bordeaux.  In what looks to become an extended set of serial killings, the murderer stages a set of wine glasses with one glass, then two, then three, of a set of 12 stemmed wine glasses, filled with a high quality wine, left at each murder scene.  After testing the liquid in the glass for toxins, Inspector Barbaroux wants Cooker to taste the wine to see where and when it was made. Could there be a clue in the vintage of the wine that will connect the victims and lead the police to the killer?

If there is a connection, Cooker & Co. will sniff it out, and those of you who love to compare wines will learn lots about the methods of those who specialize in sampling and evaluating wines.

 And along the way, there is much to be learned of the Nazi occupation of France during the World War II era.  But I don't want to say too much....

Enjoyed the read, and learned a lot myself!

Dragonfly in Amber, by Diana Gabaldon

The second volume in the Outlander series, Dragonfly In Amber finds Clare back in the 20th century with her grown daughter Brianna in tow.  Time and crisis has brought Clare back from the 18th century life with her beloved Jamie during the bloody uprising of the Scots against the British. But Clare returned abruptly, with no certain knowledge of what had become of Jamie and no assurance that her husband Frank would take her back.  In all likelihood, Jamie had been killed in battle shortly after he returned Clare to the portal that would send her to relative safety, along with the unborn child she carried.

Having been "away" for three years, Clare finds that the best way to deal with her past is to sublimate it and live in the present.  Frank does not believe her story and neither do the doctors who treat her during her recovery.

We pick up her story some 20 years later after Frank has passed away. Clare is ready to find out all she can about the battle which in all likelihood took Jamie's life along with most of his compatriots who had promised to fight for the right of Bonny Prince Charlie to be returned to the throne.

It is not long before Clare is telling her unbelievably intense, daring and romantic story to her doubting daughter and the young historian who just might have some mysterious roots in the past as well, and so we get to return to that incredible period in history and the intriguing heroes, villains and regular folks who inhabit that world. 

Another great chapter in a saga that is not over yet.  And now on to Voyager...