Monday, May 18, 2015

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave

Eight Hundred Grapes is a new book by Laura Dave. It is also noted by one of the characters that 800 is the number of grapes it takes to make a bottle of wine. Additional information regarding vineyards and vintages is woven into the story which involves the owners of a small winery in California and their family. It covers the current status of their relationships with each other, their past histories, their hopes, dreams and desires. There are tensions and issues touching everyone. From all this we see that successfully working to make wine is a tricky, vulnerable business, with its parallel in the even more delicate challenges of successfully making relationships work.

The author includes a few touches of humor, however, I found some of the dialogue between her characters a little awkward to follow. That might be my fault as a reader, but I wonder if the flow might be better. If this book were a wine, I would describe it as light with fleeting undertones of deeper flavor, but not full-bodied, rich and mellow. After finishing it I felt it would be ideal for a Hallmark Channel movie.

The book is due to come out in June 2015.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi has a compelling and believable premise. Set in the near future, water shortages in the west have reached critical levels. In many places, it no longer rains. The states are fighting for what water is available; Texans have become refugees that struggle to cross state borders (often ending up dead and strung up as a warning to others). Catherine Case is a powerful woman who controls much of the water in the west, ensuring that Nevada drinks while other states thirst.

Case employs many people to help her retain her power and her water. One of them is Angel, a former gang member she rescued from prison. He looks like a scary tough guy, scarred and tattooed, but he is a complex and loyal individual. He goes on a mission to Arizona, in its death throes but still hanging on, and gets mixed up in subterfuge over water rights that date back two hundred years. He crosses paths with Lucy, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist in Phoenix to report on the crisis, and Maria, a Texas refugee determined to survive on her own terms.

The world building is all too easy to believe. Americans have been wasting fresh water for decades in ways that are completely unsustainable. As Angel observes:

“Thanks to the centrifugal pump, places like Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas had thrown on the garments of fertility for a century, pretending to greenery and growth as they mined glacial water from ten-thousand-year-old aquifers. They’d played dress-up-in-green and pretended it could last forever. They’d pumped up the ice age and spread it across the land, and for a while they’d turned their dry lands lush. Cotton, wheat, corn, soybeans – vast green acreages, all because someone could get a pump going. Those places had dreamed of being different from what they were. They’d had aspirations. And then the water ran out, and they fell back, realizing too late that their prosperity was borrowed, and there would be no more coming.” (p. 80 of the advance reader copy)

In Bacigalupi’s world, the Red Cross provides water, and refugee camps spring up around them. The tension between Texans and Arizona natives is palpable. The Chinese build oases for those with money and power. Young women sell their bodies to survive and take drugs to provide false courage.
While the characters are not particularly original types, they are well drawn. They have depth. The intrigue was twisty but not so complicated that it was hard to follow.

Bacigalupi hit only a few false notes for me. For example, Angel thinks about Lucy: “He wanted her. He wanted her like he’d never wanted another woman.” (p. 231 of the ARC). Really? Time to slip into the overblown language of a genre romance? There are descriptions of graphic torture and violence. Angel survives gunshots and trauma that would kill anyone else except maybe Indiana Jones.

Still, I found the book gripping and the future world realistic. If you enjoy dystopian fiction and don’t mind veering off into Hollywood movie territory occasionally, I recommend The Water Knife.

I read an advance reader copy. The Water Knife will be published on May 26. It will be available in the Galesburg Public Library’s New Fiction area after that date.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Deadly Virtues by Jo Bannister

I'm a huge Jo Bannister fan but somehow have fallen behind with her new series about Gabriel Ash. (My favorite is her Castlemere series.)

Gabriel Ash is a man suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Once he worked for the government, in a behind-the-scenes computer job. But he apparently got too close to something and was warned to stop. When he didn't, he came home to find his wife and children gone. Disappeared without a clue. It's been four years, and he still doesn't know what happened to them or if they are alive.

He has been hanging on to life, just barely. His therapist suggested he get a dog, and the dog is helping him get better. He talks to the dog, and she talks back. It's a wonderful way of presenting someone coping the best he can under tremendous strain. The locals consider him the town idiot, calling him Rambles with Dog, but he's not an idiot. He is a highly intelligent man who has been broken.

Into this same village comes Hazel Best, a young police officer. A young man is beaten to death in a prison holding cell, and Gabriel Ash is the last person he speaks to. Hazel meets Ash in the course of the investigation and realizes that he isn't an idiot. She is the only one who believes him when he says that the youth knew he was going to be killed. Best and Ash get caught up in a conspiracy that reaches deep into the police department hierarchy. As they seek the truth and fear for their lives, they become friends.

Bannister is great at presenting characters of depth and interest, and she has done so again in Deadly Virtues. I can't wait to get started on Perfect Sins, the second book in the series!

The Galesburg Public Library owns 13 titles by Jo Bannister, including Deadly Virtues.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Cold Blooded by Amanda Carlson

Series: Jessica McClain #3
Genres: Mystery, Urban Fantasy, Adult
Release Date: October 8th, 2013
Publisher: Orbit
Source: Library

Add on Goodreads
Jessica arrives back in town to find her best friend missing and the most powerful witch in the country is blaming her for it. But before they can move to save her, the group is attacked.

On the run, Jessica and Rourke head to the mountains. Several surprises await them, but in order to save her father they are forced to leave for New Orleans early. Arriving on the Vampire Queen's doorstep unexpectedly, and bringing trouble on their heels, the Sects are thrown into an all out war. The vicious skirmish ends up forcing the vamps and Jessica to fight on the same team.

The Vamp Queen ends up owing Jessica, but what Jessica doesn't realize is just how soon she'll have to cash it in...
When I first dived into this book, I only expected to find the book to be pleasant, like its predecessors, yet  a small part of me still hoped it would be better, that there would be something more to it and I managed to hit the jackpot. This book was amazing!

We finally have Jessica and Rourke reunited and to see them function as a couple was definitely fun. Both of them have come so far from the beginning of the series and it’s nice to just see these independent and stubborn characters function in a relationship and be supportive of one another.

Jessica, as we’ve already come to know, is a strong female lead. She doesn’t back down easily and will do whatever she can to protect the ones she loves. The thing about her was that I never really connected with her until this book. I admired her and even liked her but there was just something missing. Perhaps it’s because we’ve finally gotten to a point where we aren’t so confused about her and all the information that has been thrown at us in the previous books is starting to settle in.

Rourke was amazing. Ah how I love him. He is swoonworthy and it’s nice to finally have him around! In book 1, we were barely introduced to him. In book 2, he wasn’t even there. In book 3, we finally get to meet Rourke and get to know him a whole lot better; which was amazing because otherwise I wouldn’t be shipping the two as much as I did!

The secondary characters are as fabulous as ever and Ray is losing some of his hard-headedness so for those of you who were never fans of him in the first place, it’s all good. He’s never going to stop being stubborn but he wasn’t as much of a jerk this time around. The sad thing about this instalment was that the secondary characters didn’t shine out as much as they had in the previous books because Jessica and Rourke finally have the spotlight.

I wasn’t actually all that unhappy about that fact since I know a lot of us have been waiting for the two to finally get together and if you haven’t already figured that out, the romance doesn’t disappoint. It was worth the wait. But you’ll have to read the book yourself to find out how great it was.

Moving on, this book was fast paced. There was a lot of stake and things kept on happening one after the other but the transitions were well done so the book didn’t feel ‘off’. It was just fun. The plot was well developed and incredibly entertaining and it just reminds me why I love Urban Fantasy so much. Urban Fantasy makes the best brain candy.

The book, on the whole was a fantastic addition to the series and if I may say so, the best yet. I can just imagine how much better things are going to get with Red Blooded. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Sage of Waterloo: A Tale by Leona Francombe

Posted for reader Norm:

This year is the two hundredth anniversary of the 1815 Battle of Waterloo, where the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, thought defeated but now returned from exile with his armies about him once again, was defeated a second and final time by armies under the command of the Duke of Wellington, with eventual help from Blucher’s Prussian force, in one of history’s bloodiest battles. This book is not, however, filled with the roar of cannons, but with their echo from far off. It is set in contemporary times, and its major characters live at Hougoumont, a Belgian farm where the French attacked some of Wellington’s troops, and about 6,000 men were killed. These major characters, by the way, are rabbits.

            The rabbits are a mix of real rabbits and, at least on this farm, something like very intellectual human historians with incredible memories and the ability to understand human languages. Their local history is a passion for these rabbits; they want to know all about the rabbits who were there two hundred years ago, but they have just as much interest in the people, both the famous and, understandably, the not-at-all famous who were present at the farm, their little corner of the battle, while it went on. The “sage” of the title is the matriarch, Old Lavender, and the first person narrator is one of the uncommon white rabbits, William, named after the important British commander (Dutch royalty by birth) the Prince of Orange.

            Despite William’s brushes with predators and the mystery of his birth, the tone of this book is gentle, almost serene. The small details of the battle, the human (or lapine) interest stories, little bits and pieces, are highlighted here. The nature of a rabbit’s perceptions, more smell than sight based, rabbit character, and the extrasensory perception some of them possess are featured and make enjoyable reading. The rabbit take on humans and their disasters is of course present. Another element running through the story is the presence of something like ghosts, and the sometimes startling ways in which the past can interact with the present.

            It does have a plot, William does have adventures, including losing his home, and a mystery is solved in the end, but the strength of the book is the character of the rabbits and the gentle, reflective substance of the book, like a rabbit looking at a distant shadow of the battlefield and twitching its nose in curiosity and wonder.

 - Submitted by Norm Burdick

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Children of the Stone by Sandy Tolan

Back in 2007 I read Sandy Tolan's book The Lemon Tree. It thoughtfully dealt with Palestinian-Israeli conflict through the relationship of two families, one from each side. It was and is a powerful book. Tolan's latest book Children of the Stone is also very powerful. It approaches the Palestinian-Israel problem through the experiences, hopes and efforts of Ramzi Hussein Abduredwan.

Ramzi grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp and as a child threw stones at Israeli soldiers. His struggling path of hardship under Israel's occupation and harsh, imposed rule, restrictions and destruction also leads Ramzi to music, education, mastery of the viola and the positive channeling of his emotions, dreams and passions. He remarkably implemented his dream of opening schools of music instruction for Palestinian children to help improve and transform their lives. His persistence and dedication has inspired others to work with him to bring worth and alternative possibilities to young lives overshadowed by tension, hatred, deprivation and violence.

Through telling the true story of Ramzi, Tolan carefully unravels the tangled threads of the history of issues, actions and re-actions of two peoples claiming the same land. He sensitively gives the reader insight into what it is like to live in such a lamentably torn, injured land. Ramzi's work is not just a feel-good program. He strives for both healing and change. While divisiveness continues, Ramzi and his co-workers also keep on with his "fusion of musical and political self-assertion."

Tolan's book came out in April 2015 and is available at booksellers and libraries, including Galesburg Public Library.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Disappearance of Emily H. by Barrie Summy

Genres: Mystery, Paranormal, Middle Grade
Release Date: May 12th, 2015
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Source: eARC from Netgalley

Add on Goodreads
A girl who can see the past tries to save the future in this compelling tween mystery. 
A girl is missing. Three girls are lying. One girl can get to the truth.

Emily Huvar vanished without a trace. And the clues are right beneath Raine’s fingertips. Literally. Raine isn’t like other eighth graders. One touch of a glittering sparkle that only Raine can see, and she’s swept into a memory from the past. If she touches enough sparkles, she can piece together what happened to Emily.

When Raine realizes that the cliquey group of girls making her life miserable know more than they’re letting on about Emily’s disappearance, she has to do something. She’ll use her supernatural gift for good . . . to fight evil.

But is it too late to save Emily?
What makes this book so tricky is my grown up mind (at least in comparison to the intended audience). It’s absolutely adorable but I also felt like it was trying to be more mature than it was because it was dealing with so many important issues. There were some pretty intense plot twists but I found myself giggling instead of being shocked because the book is too cute for me to gasp at yet if I were younger, I would definitely be gasping and thinking about how frickin awesome the book was.

There are a lot of stereotypical aspects to this book. We have terms like “the mean girl”, and “the mean girl’s accessories” being used, we have a main character who is introduced to us as the stereotypical “beautiful but doesn’t know it” and that worried me. I was worried that this book would turn out to be one big cliché but after these initial cliché-like introductions, the characters were fleshed out (including one of the mean girls to a certain degree).

Raine is an interesting main character, she has the ability to extract memories from sparkles. Before you laugh, sparkles are just the things that appear on certain objects that only Raine can see and thus only Raine (and her grandmother could) can read.  I thought this was an interesting paranormal addition to the story although it made me wonder about the sparkles. Why sparkles? Why not just plain ole touching of objects?  

Raine also happens to be surprisingly mature. There are things she has gone through that make her more mature than her peers but at the same time, she also acts her age, she will throw a fit and she will say something stupid or do something stupid. What I also liked about her that even though she started making new friends right away, she never forgot about Shirlee, who wasn’t as cool or popular.

This book deals with bullying and that worried me too! I was scared that maybe the book wouldn’t manage to pull it off or would portray it in some offensive way or even go down the lane of some really cruel revenge. Bullying is such a touchy topic in general but also specifically for me and while I won’t give the book an A+ with the way it dealt with it, I will say that it does manage to tackle bullying in a very healthy and not uncomfortable way.

There is also a slight romance in the book which I thought was absolutely adorable. I wish I could quote my favorite line (in terms of the romance) but alas it would kind of be a spoiler. You should know though that the romance isn't about falling in love but about having a crush!

I loved the plot in this book. This may be a book for kids but I become just as invested. None of the twists caught me off guard but I know, I KNOW that kid me would have adored this book and would have genuinely been taken in by those twists. The problem is that the predictability made it harder for me to take what was happening as seriously as I should have been taking it. 

This book ended up being pretty intense for a middle grade novel and I had a lot of fun reading it. It may not be perfect but it is enjoyable and one I would say that you should give a shot if you’re looking for a light, adventurous, surprising, middle grade read.