Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Girl Who Slept with God, by Val Brelinski

I heard Val Brelinski and received an advance copy of The Girl Who Slept with God at a most  interesting panel of new authors at the American Library Association conference in San Francisco this past summer. She may win the prize for most intriguing title, but whatever the title, the book delivers an intriguing insight into an Evangelical family whose rather rigid world view clashes dramatically with the life and experiences of their teenage daughters.

Brelinski has a way with words, telling her story from the perspective of 14 year old Jory Quanbeck, who is not nearly so fervent in her religious views as her older sister Grace or her father, who sets the pace for the family's religious framework.  The three daughters attend a religious school run by their community of faith, a community very confident in the accuracy of their interpretation of what God expects from believers. That is, Grace and Jory attend the school until the school term following the summer mission trip from which Grace returns pregnant.

This is not a family which discusses their issues with anyone, not even one another, so Jory is caught by surprise when her dad drives his two oldest girls to a vacant old house across town where they are to live until Grace is able to return to school.  Jory has to miss because someone has to be with Grace, and besides, she would be subject to nosy questions from others at school were she to return without Grace. Jory's mom is totally shamed by the calamity that has hit her family and drops into deep depression, a state with which she is already very familiar.

Dad shows up to take Jory, very much against her will, to enroll in the public high school on that side of town, promising her that when this is all over, she can re-enroll back at the Christian School.  The Quanbecks would never be the same.

The Murderer's Daughter, by Jonathan Kellerman

Jonathan Kellerman is a master of the psychological thriller genre, and after 30 years at the top of the best seller list, he has not lost his edge. Recently published, The Murderer's Daughter delves into dark and violent experiences of children, one of whom is protagonist Dr. Grace Blades.  She has overcome incredible odds to become a gifted and highly successful therapist for a category of client she thinks of as The Haunted.  These folks have survived, though they are terribly emotionally scarred by acts of violence perpetrated on, and in some cases, by their family members.

Dr. Blades is able to help because she has experienced incredible abuse and neglect at the hands of her birth parents, climaxed with witnessing their traumatic end at age 5 in a bloody murder/suicide, followed by some dicey times in the foster care system.  With her own grit, remarkable intelligence and some help from a few kind adults along the way, she has reached great success at a very early age.  But she also has a secret life, fed by her need to experience intimacy outside the bounds of committed caring relationships; in other words, she regularly seeks out and seduces strangers for sex.

Obviously, these two lives can never coincide...until they do.  And when they do, Grace becomes the prey of a psychotic killer she tangentially knew as a young girl in the foster system. Giving all the details to the police is out of the question. So she turns the tables, becoming the hunter of those who are hunting her.

Kellerman offers a well constructed plot, interspersing current time with Grace's growing up years, carefully introducing the many layers of this thriller along the way. If you are a fan of Kellerman or of psychological thrillers in general, this is one you will do well not to miss!

The Pirate Code (Hook's Revenge # 2) by Heidi Schulz

Heidi Schulz has richly imagined the life and adventures of the daughter the incredible Captain Hook of J.M. Barrie's classic Peter Pan might have had, and oh, the adventures she has! The target audience is the 9-12 age group, but the witty unnamed narrator has plenty of clever asides to keep the older readers entertained as well.

Book 2 of the Hook's Revenge series, The Pirate Code picks up where the first in the series ended. Jocelyn has cleverly ended the terror reign of the crocodile who killed her dad in book one and is now ready to claim Captain Hook's treasure.  Luckily, her dad has left her a map.  Unluckily, it is encoded and she has no clue how to follow the map.

Maybe Peter Pan can help her decode the map, but he makes it clear he can't be bothered to help.  Desperate, the new but just as strong willed Captain Hook decides to kidnap Pan's "mother," which surely will buy his help in a ransom exchange.  But Jocelyn finds that the kidnapping meets with limited success:  The kidnapped "mom," Evie,  is thrilled to be captured by pirates and be part of another great adventure!!

And a very unexpected complication occurs when Jocelyn realizes that she and Evie have a real world connection that may make claiming the treasure impossible. The book contains lots of Neverland magic and the intriguing population of good and evil characters, giving Jocelyn plenty of opportunities to think and analyze, to learn the meaning and value of friendship, and finally to hone her own definition of the Pirate Code.

Just recently published, this is a fun read and a series that is sure to capture the interest of the young adventurers out there!

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Kilgore Curse, by Larry Pivnick MD, JD

Frank McNamara is a lawyer in a big Dallas law firm.  His career seems to be stymied and the one big real estate project he is assigned to is not progressing like his bosses want.  He's been a widower for a little while and has allowed his in-laws to provide the stability and family environment for his teenage son at their home in suburban Plano.

Consequently, when he is spending time with his son, he wants it to be meaningful.  This time they have gone to visit the family plot in an old cemetery in Dallas. They are a little surprised to see a small group of Hispanics at their family grave site. A bitter older man in the group is cursing in Spanish, kicking dirt clods onto the graves, and tops off the insulting behavior  with very intentional spitting on the grave.  The only word McNamara understands is the word Kilgore, his maternal grandmother's name.

That shocking behavior certainly does not fit the family history he has been told. As he visits with the younger woman at the grave site, he is made aware that the Cortez family believes the Kilgores cheated them out of land that is now part of downtown Dallas, and even killed family members to keep the story quiet.

McNamara sets out to get the real story on what happened between the two families a couple of generations earlier. It is unsettling to realize that the major project he is working on as part of his law firm responsibility involves this same property as well.  There are a few people with a lot to lose if he digs too far, and before long his life is threatened and his job is in danger, not to mention his teenage son. 

Lots of action, a lot of familiar Dallas restaurants, locations and environs make the story seem even more real to a Dallasite. There is a John Grisham flavor to the maverick lawyer protagonist and I enjoyed he characters and the twists of the plot as the story progressed. 

The author used to be my doctor before he retired, and I've got to admit that makes reading the sex and violence parts just a little awkward...but the story is probably better because the author was a practicing doctor and lawyer before becoming a published author.

Check it out!

Murder in the Marais, by Cara Black

Cara Black has been writing murder mysteries featuring Aimee Leduc, a Parisian private investigator, for years and this is the book where it all started.  I had a chance to hear the personable Ms. Black at the ALA conference earlier this summer in San Francisco.  She is a native Californian, but her books read like she is a native of France.  Her heroine is fearless and fashionable, a reliable ally when the chips are down.

It seems that Aimee and her struggling business are always short of money, which leads her to take cases she really would prefer to avoid. She and her partner specialize in technical investigating, and their computer skills are cutting edge, but when the chips are down they accept the cases that somehow always involve danger, bad guys and murder.

The Marais is a district in Paris which is where many French Jewish people resided back when the Germans occupied France in World War II. An elderly Jewish woman is mysteriously killed shortly before Aimee is scheduled to meet with her. Unfortunately Aimee is the one who discovers the body, therefore having to interact with the police, which she would have preferred to avoid. There are too many reminders there of her late father, a detective who was killed in a terrorist explosion a few short years prior, and Aimee was right there to see it.

But as she struggles to make sense of the death of the elderly woman, she begins to discover more and more confusing clues, and they are leading her further and further back into the darkest part of France's modern history, the Occupation.  What did this woman know? Who did she know that feared what she might tell?

It's a page turner with lots of characters and lots of suspects to evaluate before the surprising conclusion is revealed. It's a satisfying murder mystery with lots of action, a strong female protagonist with a strong sense of high fashion, even when she is fleeing from danger.

Just saying, it adds a unique IS Paris, after all!

The People of Broken Wheel Recommend, by Katarina Bivald, translated from Swedish by Alice Menzies

Ms. Bivald wrote this story in Swedish, but it translates beautifully and quite naturally into English.  It is an almost magical story of the power of books to bring people together. It originally was published in 2013 in Swedish and is currently an international best seller.  The English translation is due to be published in January 2016, and the buzz is growing already.

  The protagonist is Sara Linqvist, a Swedish bookstore clerk whose whole life is sublimated to her continuous preoccupation with books, where she has learned about life.  She is 28, her friends are all of the fictional variety, and when the bookstore where she works in Haninge closes, she decides to accept the invitation of her American book sharing pen pal Amy Harris, a resident of Broken Wheel, Iowa, and enjoy a reading holiday together.

Sara's arrival, unfortunately, coincides with the post-funeral dinner being held at Amy's house.  The funeral is for Amy.  Yes, it is a shock, but Amy's friends are expecting Sara, and invite her to stay in the guest room in Amy's house.  The reader gets to know Amy's extended family and friends as Sara does.  The reader also gets to know Amy through the letters she has written to Sara.

The Broken Wheel residents are readily accepting of Sara and slowly charmed by her love of books and her obvious affection for the departed Amy.  Sara decides to honor Sara's memory by opening a bookstore on the town square.  As a tourist she can't open a business, but there are a number of empty store fronts on Main Street and a few town residents help her get it ready.  The books are Amy's own books, and she does have an impressive and eclectic collection.  It is more of a lending library than a bookstore, as no money ever changes hands. 

As time passes, the residents of Broken Wheel begin to grow closer to one another and begin to take pride in their fading community.  Sara is becoming more and more a part of the little community's life, and as they realize her time with them is coming to a close, they begin to wonder if they can get along without her. It is a sweet love story, not only between individuals, but also between an entire town and their Swedish guest.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Keegan's Point, by HD Smith

HD Smith has written an exciting adventure/mystery in Keegan's Point that should appeal to young readers.  Note that the subtitle is The Good Bad Guys Series...People are not always what they seem to be!

The protagonist is Charlie Parker, the only son of a single working mother.  He is a smart kid, but has the disadvantage of having been pushed ahead a grade, making him a prime target of the bullies in middle school.  Charlie is so nervous that he actually faints before he can give his oral report, even though he is prepared.  He is pretty much obsessed with the island estate of a deceased billionaire who may have been victimized by a Miami law firm.  Charlie has chosen Marcus Keegan as the subject of his report.

But the problem worrying him most right now is that his buddies and one of their dads have planned a weekend fishing trip, but Charlie's mom won't let him go unless another parent goes along too.

His mom owns a diner in the Florida town where they live and Charlie walks there every day after school.  This particular day there are some new customers who catch  his attention.  The mysterious bits of conversation make him wonder what they are up to.  And the mysterious strangers are paying more attention to him than he realizes, especially when he mentions his report on Marcus Keegan.  Little did he know that he would soon be caught up in their own illegal adventure. It turns our that they have a special interest in Marcus Keegan too, and may need Charlie's research to find the loot they are searching for, even if they have to kidnap Charlie to access it.