Monday, April 14, 2014

We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart

The Sinclairs are a family of wealth and privilege. Cadence Sinclair Eastman is the first born grandchild. The summers she and her cousins spend at the family island compound seem idyllic. But too soon, their mothers, the privileged and perfect Sinclair girls, all have broken marriages and are spending down their trust funds to maintain appearances. To the world they present a strong front, but together, they display jealousy toward one another, vying for preferential treatment from their aging parents.

Cadence narrates the story and describes the cousins as The Liars Club, but in truth they seem to have bonded pretty solidly. She is recalling the story as a way to figure out what had happened the summer she experienced a swimming accident that apparently resulted in a brain injury. She suffers migraines, but is annoyed at how her mom hovers over her.  Cadence's memories of her past are foggy and incomplete, but as she reviews them over and over, details emerge...but are they the truth?

Never answering questions and assuming the family superiority are givens in this family, but will the grandchildren accept the rules the elder Sinclairs live by?

Good story; well constructed, and I enjoyed it.

I read the book courtesy of Edelweiss. Publication date is May 14, 2014.

Spirit Animals, Book 2, Hunted, by Maggie Stiefvater

Second in the multi-platform series from Scholastic Publishing, Hunted, by Maggie Stiefvater, continues the saga of four children recently bonded to spirit animals. Their quest is to save their world, Erdas, from an evil force that is quickly gaining ground, but first they must learn to become a team, not just with the animals, but with one another.

But the evil forces they are charged to overcome are on the move already. Conor, Abeke, Rollan, and Meilin have barely begun their training before they are tasked with finding one of the great beasts of the North. Rumfuss the Boar has custody of a talisman that will help their cause. But Zerif, an agent of the evil force, is aware of it too. Zerif's dark powers have allowed him to force spirit bonding on other children. They are on the move, and what's worse, those kids seem more confident in their skills than our fledgling warriors. Who will get to Rumfuss first? Will our untested young heroes figure out how to utilize the powers available to them through the spirit bonding with the animals?

In this concept each of the planned seven books is written by an established Young Adult/Fantasy author. Scholastic has also developed online games that allows readers to become a character living in this world, bond with a spirit animal, unlocking clues to help win the game, based on their knowledge of the book.

I received this book courtesy of Texas Library Association at the recent conference, where Maggie Stiefvater was the featured speaker at the closing luncheon.  I had not heard of this series but enjoyed Book 2.  The characters and the crisis they are dealing with, along with the spirit bonding they have experienced, were all dealt with in Book 1, Wild Born, by Brandon Mull.  Necessary background information was woven into the story so it was not difficult to follow the action.  Kids will probably want to read the books in order and enjoy the online video games so they can pick up the necessary clues to win the online games.  The series is aimed at 3rd to 7th grade readers.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Silent Wife, by A.S.A. Harrison

The Silent Wife, a thought provoking psychological drama, slowly and deliberately uncovers the reasons why this 20 year apparently solid and loving relationship between two successful professionals goes horribly and irrevocably awry.  The author reveals early in the book that Jodi will become a killer, though at the time that knowledge is revealed to the reader, the thought has not even occurred to Jodi. 

Her husband Todd counts on Jodi's home keeping skills, her excellent cooking and her ability to listen and anticipate his needs.  But he has fallen hard for the college-aged daughter of his long time friend Dean, and Natasha loves him back and is lobbying hard for marriage and an exclusive relationship.

Each chapter is from the alternating perspectives of Jodi and Todd.  We come to know their childhood experiences, how those experiences shaped them into the persons that they are and goes a long way in explaining why they respond to one another the way they do.

The chapters are short, and the layers of their back story are revealed side by side with the quicksand of the dissolving relationship.  Jodi is in denial, having overlooked Todd's serial cheating for years and has built a comfortable life for the both of them in spite of it.  She believes that Todd will be back and they will pick up where they left off. 

Todd is a Rationalizer and Avoider of Confrontation, so believes for way too long that he can continue to lead separate lives with no real consequences to pay. However, he has not factored in the impulsive and strong-willed young woman who wants to marry him.

The story moves quickly. Todd and Jodi begin to experience the desperation of a separate, unwanted, and uncertain future, and begin to depend too much on the comforts derived from alcohol. All too soon there is no turning back from the catastrophic end of the marriage.

Clever and well written, this book draws lots of comparisons  to Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, but it is not the same story. It is plenty good enough to stand on its own merits!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Blackhouse, by Peter May

Peter May has created a crime fiction novel that begins like a serial killer mystery, but evolves into a complex study of roots, suppressed and tangled memories and relationships, and introduces characters that you will either despise or care enormously about, and some characters merit both responses as the mystery unfolds, layer by later.

Fin McLeod is a detective assigned to the Edinburgh Police Department in Scotland, but he has been on leave because of the tragic accidental death of his young son. When he returns, he finds that he has been temporarily assigned to a murder case on the Isle of Lewis, one of the islands of the Scottish Hebrides.  He was selected, first because he was born there and knows the Gaelic tongue that is spoken there, and second, because the MO mirrors identically the unsolved murder that Fin was working before he abruptly went on leave.

His temporary attachment to the local police force is unwelcome by the local commander, who believes the crime and the perpetrator have nothing to do with any earlier cases on the mainland.  The commander tries to minimize Mcleod's influence by giving him "busy work" assignments, but this gives him the time to reconnect with his childhood memories and experiences, not to mention many of the people themselves.  The murder victim had been the school bully all those years ago, and any number of others may have felt justified in killing him.

The chapters that reveal Fin's bittersweet childhood are interspersed with the present day murder investigation, gradually building to a dramatic and harrowing climax and an unexpectedly sweet conclusion.

I received a digital copy from Edelweiss, and will be watching for more from Peter May. This is really a great read! 

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Word Exchange, by Alena Graedon

So are you ready for a suspenseful technological thriller about dictionaries? Your wait is over...The Word Exchange is here!  The story takes place in a not too distant future set mainly in New York City.  Books and magazines are increasingly rare as most folks have become increasingly dependent on their Memes, a handheld device that is so intuitive that it can order your favorite take out as soon as it senses you are hungry.  What seems like an incredibly convenient device becomes more and more of a crutch as it takes on more and more of the routine thinking tasks of it's owners.

There is a minority of people who are warning of the dangers of this dependency on technology and machines, but they are not taken too seriously.  One of those people is Doug Johnson who has been laboring away to complete what is to be the last printed edition of the North American Dictionary of the English Language. His daughter, Anana Johnson works with him and is the one who discovers he is missing one late night shortly before the dictionary is destined to hit the shelves. Left behind are some cryptic clues addressed to "Alice," the code name Doug had assigned to her in case anything untoward might occur.

And perhaps the situation is even more sinister than it seems.  The Synchronic Corporation that markets the device called the Meme has an even more advanced device waiting in the wings, the Nautilus, but first the company markets a game, which becomes very popular, in which the players make up definitions of new words, mostly random combinations of letters, and then vote on the definitions that they like best.  The game was originally developed by Max, the live in boyfriend who ditched Ana right before he and his buddies sold their start-up for tons of Synchronic's money.

Ana's increasingly frantic search for answers takes her to the bowels of the building where the Dictionary offices are, and she is shocked to witness the destruction of dictionaries as well as assembly line workers reassigning new meanings to some of the words in the online version of the dictionary.  Some are wearing the Nautilus device. At the same time she is beginning to feel sick, and notices that others are experiencing the same symptoms.  Those symptoms include the unknowing use of nonsense words in conversation, and in some cases the complete loss of speech capabilities.  The "word flu" virus in the devices has leaped to a new host: the device users themselves.

And either she is experiencing paranoia as well as the flu, or there are some sinister types out to get Ana too, as she discovers more clues that might resolve the mystery of what happened to Doug.

This book is so carefully structured that it is a delight to unravel.  The vocabulary of rare and unusual words is prevalent enough in the text that I feel the author must have wanted to remind all us readers  how handy that dictionary is. Ms. Graedon also integrates the philosophy of language and it's relationship to culture, communication and mankind's sense of history into the dialogue of Doug's friends as well as the conversations with Doug that she recalls.

Lots to ponder on several levels but the book is also enriched by the sweet love story that slowly evolves between Ana and her co-worker Bart.  Slowly that is, for Ana, though shy Bart was smitten the minute he saw her.

I received an e-copy of this book courtesy of Net Galley.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Harbour Master, by Daniel Pembrey

The most recent of author Daniel Pembrey's novellas, The Harbour Master is a psychological thriller featuring an aging cop on the Amsterdam Police force.  Henk Van der Pol knows the harbour area well; he not only works there, but also lives on a houseboat docked very near there. Henk is very much aware that there is a new game in town in the leadership of the police department, and the newer, younger men have risen quickly in the hierarchy of the station where he works, but he is getting along okay and thinking more about retirement.

That is, until he discovers a young woman's body in the harbour one morning and is perplexed about the way his superiors are handling, or more correctly, ignoring the case from the very beginning. Henk is not assigned to the case, discovers that some of the evidence, a video he had made at the scene, has been erased from his phone, and decides to do some informal investigating on his own.

This does not go unnoticed by his superiors, who are quick to discourage him, even putting him on the fast track to retirement when he continues to ask questions.  All too soon he realizes that his wife and daughter are in danger and the police are not interested in offering any protection...just advice to get out of town.

Henk decides to do whatever it takes to protect his family even if it appears too late to restore justice and integrity to the police and local government.This story is intense, the pace is fast, the bad guys are really evil, but don't sell Henk short...he may be older, but he is smarter, and the thugs, pimps and corrupt politicians of Amsterdam just may have met their match.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Riverman, by Aaron Starmer

Alistair Cleary, a 12 year old boy from small town Thessaly New York, narrates his own story and the story of his community.  The story begins with the acknowledgement, true enough, that all towns have experienced the loss of a child, and Alistair tells of his small part in the story of Luke Drake, who drowned in 1979.  Alistair is a bright kid but somewhat of a loner.  Charlie, an odd ball of a neighbor, has declared himself best friends with Alistair, but Alistair's closest friend as the story progresses becomes the singular young girl who lives down the street, Fiona Loomis.

Fiona chooses Alistair, just as Charlie does, but she chooses him because he is trustworthy and she has a serious story to tell. She is a no-nonsense type of girl and tells Alistair that she chooses him to write her biography, including her secret life in Aquavania.  In Aquavania, Fiona's imagination is the only limitation to what and who she meets there, that is, until she discovers a neighboring land that is the product of another child's imagination.

Alistair (and the readers) spend the rest of the book figuring out if Aquavania is real, merely a product of Fiona's rich imagination, or perhaps the reshaping of memories too horrible to face head on.

Even as Fiona slowly tells her story, life continues to happen in Thessaly.  Charlie experiences a serious injury, his older brother Kyle, who is always just a step ahead of the authorities, befriends Alistair, trusting him with some pretty deep plans of his own.  Seems like both Charlie and Fiona are products of pretty dysfunctional families.

What is real and what is not becomes even foggier, as Fiona's stories of Aquavania take on an ominous tone, with real people from the "real" world disappearing from Aquavania.  And even more frightening, Alistair and Fiona come to believe that the villain of Aquavania, The Riverman,  is someone they know from the real world. Only thing is, they suspect different people. 

A mystery, a fantasy, just scary enough, and not to mention just enough bathroom humor to remind you that this is after all, written for middle schoolers, this story is richly drawn and is anything but predictable as it draws to a close.  Lots of rich opportunities for group discussion after all is said and done.  Kids and adults alike have plenty to ponder, perhaps hoping that author Aaron  Starmer will delve deeper into the lives of the folks in Thessaly, particularly those who choose to spend time in Aquavania, in a second book.

Read this one friends, and let's talk about it!

I received an advance E-copy of this title from NetGalley.