Monday, February 24, 2014
Three college freshmen meet the first week of school and wind up forging deep friendships that seem destined to last forever. But shortly after graduation they separate, with adamant declarations that they will not reconnect. Complete separation is infinitely better than shifting to occasional and shallow contact from separate parts of the country, at least according to Cat Ocampo.
Six years later two of the three, Pen Calloway and Will Wadsworth, received a terse email from Cat, the third member of their circle of friendship. "I need you," was all she had to say, but she added, "I'm sorry for everything." Pen and Will return separately to the reunion, longing to renew their friendships, but not knowing how the others would respond.
Pen is now a single mother of a 5 year old, living with her older brother, and working peripherally in the book industry but there is not much question about whether she will go to the reunion. Will is single and making a living as a children's author, and like Pen, is assaulted with memories of the friendship and the final parting. He knows he will go as well.
It is a most unusual reunion, and in almost no time at all Pen is on her way around the world, along with her child and her friends, to solve a mystery and find a friend who sorely needs them. Along the way, the author fills in the back story of her exquisitely drawn characters. Flawed but charming people, even the obnoxious ones are redeemable in the author's capable hands.
I highly recommend a good story, a sweet romance, and a tribute to the power of family and the importance of forgiveness, all wrapped up in one un-put-downable book! Check it out!
Talk about awkward! Way too many secrets shared, but the kids get together privately and decide to keep the new power a secret from parents and school administrators. Before long the opportunity to cheat is overwhelming. Some are appalled at what their parents are thinking, not to mention their teachers, but perhaps the worst is hearing what the boy you have a crush is thinking about...another girl! And the saddest scenario is the popular carefree boy who discovers that his parents are splitting and that his girl friend has cheated on him.
Mlynowski has written lots of successful works for teens and this one will probably catch on too. It wasn't my cup of tea, I suppose. Not enough really likable characters, and a few too many crude thoughts being shared for my liking, though I like the premise.
And the friction between the mind reading teens and the authorities who had supplied the "flu shots" might have promise for a sequel...
E copy received and reviewed courtesy of Net Galley. Publication date is scheduled for March 11, 2014. For ages 12 and up.
Zacharias, a great observer of history and analyst of popular culture, takes time to review how this came about. In his very readable style, he details the onset of the New Spirituality and the major players that have popularized it. Among them, Deepak Chopra, a mover and shaker in the movement, shows up early and often in Zacharias' tome, and is exposed as someone who has borrowed deeply from his Hindu roots, but doesn't credit his sources, much to the dismay of actual Hindu scholars who have called him to task. Chopra blends scientific terms lifted from quantum physics into his spiritual theorizing, but when questioned by an actual scientist, Richard Dawkins, Chopra responds that his use of scientific language is a metaphor. Though the explanation didn't seem to satisfy Dawkins, it still wows many in his mass audience.
Zacharias looks for truth and relevance, faith and reason, as he compares the world's major belief systems, and the New Age Spirituality that has recently emerged, to the claims of Jesus. As Zacharias mentions in the close of the introduction to his book, "Coming to the right conclusion on a matter such as this will define eternity."
A very readable and informative book, I recommend this to all who are intrigued by the claims of the New Spirituality.
Thursday, February 6, 2014
The first book, The Beggar's Opera, is set in Cuba. In the second, Ramirez is surprised to be sent to Canada to bring back a priest who is thought to have child pornography including Cuban children, on his laptop.
In the opening chapter of The Poisoned Pawn that priest happens to have a seat adjoining that of Hillary Ellis on the airline departing Cuba for Ottawa. Ms. Ellis is the wife of the Canadian policeman who is accused of a crime in the first book and investigated by Inspector Rick Ramirez. Before the plane lands she is stricken fatally ill and dies shortly after landing in Canada.
Ramirez is considered to be among the few untainted cops in the Cuban police force, though he does rationalize taking money from the evidence room, not to mention assorted items that are essential to doing his job from time to time. Perhaps this is why his superiors select him to travel to Canada to bring back the priest, though he is working on a new case. The body of an elderly Cuban woman has just been discovered with a fishing knife buried in her chest, and no one seems to know who she is or why she was killed.
Ms. Blair does paint a picture of a severe lack of the basic necessities among the citizens of Cuba. She contrasts that with the amenities and privileges that are available to Cuban tourists. When Ramirez gets to Canada, there is much to contrast between the wealth and largesse of Canada and the neediness of Cuba (though Ramirez definitely misses the Cuban coffee!). He is stunned of course by the contrast in temperature, as he is in Canada early in the New Year when the cold has Canada thoroughly in its grip and his clothing is nowhere near adequate.
Though Ms. Blair does build a complex mystery with plenty of twists and turns, she also incorporates social commentary aplenty about the aboriginal populations in both Canada and Cuba, both of which were treated abysmally by the European conquerors of both countries. She also has plenty to say about sexual victimization of children in residential schools by Catholic priests in both countries.
Ms. Blair uses both the game of chess and the plots of operas to help move her story forward. The charming and intelligent Inspector has a close working relationship with Hector Aptiro, the medical examiner for the Havana Major Crimes Unit. Their friendship is based on mutual respect and intellectual parity, which helps them ferret out the meaning of confusing clues even as they discuss unrelated topics. Dr. Aptiro is a dwarf who has overcome many obstacles to achieve all that he has achieved.
But Inspector Ramirez still can't bring himself to reveal everything about himself to Hector. He is concerned that the ghosts he sees may be figments of his imagination, or worse, evidence of a physical or mental disability. But the truth is that the ghosts are often the victims of the crimes he is trying to solve and seem to be trying to help him understand the clues around him. Ramiriez' grandmother came from Africa and brought her beliefs in voodoo religions with her. She taught Ricardo about those spirits, and those beliefs merged with teachings he learned as a child about Catholicism.
That mix of paranormal and mystery could have gotten annoying, but it didn't. The ghosts do not reveal all; they just try to get Ramirez to see the clues that are there already.
I got the chance to read the book courtesy of LibraryThing and will be looking for more from Peggy Blair, a Canadian author who creates a great mystery peopled with interesting and complex characters.
Martin is gifted at fleshing out characters and plots that are moving dynamically at key points all over the world; not always aware of everything else that is going on, yet affecting the course of history and ultimately their common future. Each chapter is written from the perspective of those key characters, some of whom the reader has been following since the first book, A Game of Thrones, and we have seen their fortunes wax and wain like nobody's business. Cliff hangers are commonplace at each chapter's end, and we have come to accept, if not actually like, the death of beloved characters as the plot moves toward the eventual climax.
The dragons which the world population had believed were extinct have returned, as three dragon eggs hatch in a fiery blaze that changes and empowers the lost daughter of the Targaryen dynasty to seek to return to the throne in Westeros which her family had held until her father was assassinated, her family killed, and only she and a slightly older brother were spirited away to grow up far away from home.
But in addition to the wild and powerful growing dragons, there are also sorcerers, not to mention otherworldly powers that are still dominant in the northernmost parts of the world. There are giants, mammoths and creatures called wights, who have been killed, but rise to fight and kill again. There are wargs, or skin changers who threaten from the extreme North as well.
Only the Black Brothers of the Night's Watch on the Wall stand between the Others and civilization to the South. The Wall has been standing for thousands of years, solid ice and several stories tall, but several of the forts along the Wall have been abandoned as the southern kingdoms who supplied the men who became the Black Brothers, got caught up in their own battles and wars. Young Jon Snow has been named the Lord Commander of those who remain, and he has some unorthodox thoughts on how to rebuild the strength on the Wall.
Cersei Lannister, the widow of Robert Baratheon and mother of the current child king Tommen is imprisoned by the church hierarchy which intends to try her for her sins. At the end of this saga, Cersei has still not faced trial, and events seem to be turning her way...and if things go well for Cersei, they will be terrible for everybody else!! Just makes it all the more urgent for Mr. Martin to get to the publisher with Volume 6, The Winds of Winter, pronto!
Monday, January 20, 2014
Bink loves his country and really wants to stay, but what can he do? "Go see the good magician Humfrey," urges his fiancee Sabrina. Surely Humfrey can help Bink discover a magical talent of some kind. Bink finally decides that he must try to see Humfrey and starts out on that quest. He goes alone, and travels through some magical and sometimes dangerous territory. He meets centaurs, escapes a dragon and is temporarily made to share his body with a shade, which is a dead person who has not yet passed on to the other side. He is able to help the shade get one last life saving message to his family and then the shade is free to move out of the shadow world. Bink finally discovers Humfrey's castle and successfully meets several challenges before getting to meet the Good Magician. Humfrey discovers that magic is really strong in Bink, but he can't fathom what his magical gift actually is. But no problem, he will write a note to the king explaining that Humfrey has seen that Bink has strong magic, but that he will not be able to demonstrate it. Unfortunately the king is rather jealous of Humfrey and winds up burning the note and pouring out the magic healing water that Humfrey had sent back with him. So, no other choice; Bink must leave Xanth forever, never to return.
Bink follows the Guard's directions and barely makes it through the magic Shield into Mundania. He is walking down the path, wondering what Mundania will be like, when a group of soldiers surround and capture him. Turns out they are part of the army of The Evil General Trent, aka, The Evil Magician Trent, who was exiled to Mundania some 20 years ago. Trent's intent is to get Bink to reveal exactly where the Shield Stone is located so that he can zero in on it with a destructive bomb he has developed. He is sure Bink will want to help him so that he too can return to Xanth. But Bink still loves his country and will not betray her. A very homely woman is also captured by the soldiers as she is leaving Xanth. She is imprisoned with Bink and The Evil Trent makes the same offer to her. But Fanchon and Bink work together to try to thwart Trent's return and takeover plan. Bink is troubled by how reasonable and persuasive Trent is, but his loyalty to Xanth always wins out when he is tempted to accept Trent's offers.
Eventually Bink and Fanchon escape and make their way back into Xanth in a most harrowing and unexpected way, but by that time Trent has joined with them. The three agree to a truce to assure their mutual passage through the unknown wilderness of Xanth on the way back to civilization. Many magical tests and unknown dangers await them, but they work together to assure survival of all. Bink learns a lot about himself and what he truly wants out of life. He learns that people are more complex than he realized and that even the Evil Magician Trent has a lot of good in him too.
A good story, which actually received the Best Novel of the Year (1977) from the British Fantasy Society. If you are a fantasy fanatic, you've probably already read it, but if you are new to fantasy, give this one a try. Lots of humor and imaginative storytelling awaits you!
In this world the opposing two governments on this continent are so intent on building machines to allow them to dominate one another that they neglect their citizens. In this dystopian world, meteor storms occur at the time of the full moon, dropping all kinds of mysterious objects which apparently originate in other worlds, onto cratered fields in barren areas. Sometimes items are broken beyond repair, but occasionally the repaired items can serve to put a meal on the table of the one lucky enough to find it. The poor and struggling citizens wait on the edge of the fields, ready to scavenge through the artifacts as soon as the meteors quit falling and the dangerous dust settles. They are looking for salvage that markets and museum curators might be willing to buy from the poor and hungry scrap town residents.
Piper is a young thirteen year old orphan who lives in the house her father had left for her when he went south to work in a factory. The job eventually took his life, but not before he had taught Piper how to repair and rebuild all kinds of machines and mechanical objects. She is able to supplement her income with this particular skill. In fact she seems to have a special affinity for all things mechanical, but she doesn't recognize the significance of this gift at first.
Early in the story, she follows her friend Micah into the field while the meteors are still falling. Micah is injured so Piper runs to a caravan on the other side of the field that has also gambled that they could get through the meteor shower without injury. Piper is hoping to find first aid items to help her injured friend when she discovers a mysterious young girl in the wreckage. Piper is able to get the unconscious girl to her home and Micah to his family's home where his brother will watch after him. She hurries back to her own home to check on the girl. She rouses but can't give Piper any information about herself other than her name, Anna. She has amnesia, but Piper is shocked to see an elaborate dragonfly tattoo on the girl's arm that indicates that she is under the protection of the king of the Southern Kingdom.
In a very short time, a mysterious stranger, who was apparently also injured in the meteor storm is pounding on Piper's door. He implies that he is Anna's father, but she is obviously terrified of him. Piper manages to disarm the man and she and Anna knock him unconscious, enabling their escape.
Piper believes their only hope is to board the supply train secretly, since she has no money to buy a ticket. The train is covered with defensive hardware to prevent this, but Piper is somehow able to disable the defenses temporarily and board the train. She is hoping that there will be a reward for the return of this mysterious girl who is under the king's protection. But boarding the train is only the beginning of this adventure. Before long Piper cares enough about Anna that she is ashamed she had originally hoped for a reward and intends to protect her at all costs. The Security Manager on the train is at first skeptical of these two dirty and desperate girls, but soon we find that there is much more to him than meets the eye. Before long, several of the train employees are working together to help the girls and save them from whatever unknown fate awaits them if they fall into the hands of the mysterious man who pursues them with a vengeance.
An exciting adventure, lots of twists and turns in the plot, some magic, some sorcery, some otherworldly creatures inhabiting this world as well. The girls are strong protagonists who learn that they are capable of much more than what they had thought possible. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to young fantasy adventure fans.