Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham

If you love epic fantasy, I recommend The Dragon’s Path, book one of Daniel Abraham’s series The Dagger and the Coin.

The Dragon’s Path is a long book, and it took some time for me to get into it. After a mysterious prologue, the author introduces different threads for four main characters. I began to wonder whether common plot threads would ever start to weave between the four characters. However, eventually, the characters’ stories became entangled.

Once I got involved in the story, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I’m glad to know there are more books on the way about these characters. The characters have depth and secrets. They make mistakes and regret them. Their feelings for each are conflicted, and their relationships are more complicated than simple romantic ties. One of the main characters is female, and strong female characters are sometimes lacking in epic fantasy.

There are a lot of characters in the story. A glossary of both the people and the different races present would have been helpful. Overall, however, the made-up names and places did not make my head spin the way they do in some epic fantasy.

The second book in the series, The King’s Blood, has not yet been published, but The Dragon’s Path can be read by itself. It is clear at the end of the book that there is more to come, but the main plot lines are tied up – even that mysterious prologue.

The author notes in an interview at the back of my copy of the book that he “wanted an epic fantasy without much violence.” This attitude is part of why the book appealed to me. There are scenes of great violence, but they are not described in great detail. The feel of the book is not primarily one of violence. The book is driven by characters and their interactions. In contrast, I started the first book in George R.R. Martin’s incredibly popular Song of Ice and Fire series and couldn’t finish it, partly due to the level of violence.

One thing that caught me off guard is the absence of dragons in a book called The Dragon’s Path. The dragons are kind of like the ancient Romans are for us. They ruled long ago and established the jade roads that people travel on. They also made mistakes that ended in their downfall. (I am guessing there will be dragons in later books – otherwise, why mention dragons at all? But I could be wrong about that.)

The title of the book has two meanings – the characters travel the dragon paths from one place to another, but their society is also moving toward the path of ruin. That kind of layered meaning makes The Dragon’s Path a satisfying read.

The Galesburg Public Library is exploring the possibility of a new Science Fiction/Fantasy book discussion group. If you are a teen or an adult who might be interested in participating in such a group, please contact me at, or attend an exploratory meeting upstairs at the library at 6:30 pm on Monday, January 30.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler

I would recommend The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler to anybody who likes a story that sticks in your mind.  I found myself thinking about the characters even when I wasn't reading.  It's a fast read--I read it in a couple of nights.  It is a story about working through the grief process with humor and wisdom.  The book is due out in April 2012.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant

Newly widowed Mrs. Martha Russell has a problem. The much older husband she didn’t love has died without leaving an heir; without a son, Martha will have to hand over her late husband’s estate to his depraved brother and move in with one of her own siblings. Her husband has only been dead two weeks; although Mrs. Russell knows she is not pregnant, no one else does. When the indolent eldest son of a neighboring landowner is exiled from London to the country to prove himself, Mrs. Russell devises a plan to save not only herself but also the local children and their the new estate school (which will surely be shut down by her brother-in-law). Purely as a business arrangement, she asks Mr. Theo Mirkwood to visit her in secret once a day for a month in the hope that she can become pregnant and hold on to the estate.

This is the premise of Cecilia Grant’s book A Lady Awakened. This is her first book, although I would never have guessed it. It delivers in all the ways one expects an historical romance to deliver, but it also offers up unexpected plot turns and a freshness to the characters. There are a few unnecessary (I thought) uses of the f word, but on the whole it’s an entertaining page-turner for fans of steamy historical romance novels.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Miss Dimple Disappears by Mignon Ballard

Miss Dimple Disappears, the first book in a series by Mignon F. Ballard, is a gentle and enjoyable read set in Georgia during World War II. The author does a good job of capturing the times and introducing us to a wide cast of quirky, plucky, and secretive characters. The mystery is not the point here; the relationships are.

My one complaint about this book is the jacket. There is a spoiler about something that doesn't happen until page 193 of a 262 page book! So if you like a quiet cozy mystery and want to become acquainted with Miss Dimple, I recommend you read Miss Dimple Disappears - but not the jacket.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Healing by Jonathan Odell

Funny thing, this book was written with such emotion and compassion that I was a little surprised upon finishing it to find it was written by a man. Not that men can't write emotional books mind you, but there was just something sweet and touching about this story that surprised me.

The Healing is written in a classic storyteller's style - covering two periods of time, one being 1933 and the other being 1847. It was a pleasure to jump back and forth between the two, and I enjoyed both sides equally. The 1847 side was a little rough and hard to take because it dealt with slavery and the hardships that were endured. It never ceases to amaze me how cruel and misguided people were back then. The author brought to life that period of time, with a cast of characters that were real and human, and he gave us quite a glimpse into their daily life.

We follow a girl named Granada from the time she is an infant until she is quite old. We watch her grow up, we watch her struggle, we watch her fail and we watch her triumph. I even shed a few tears along the way to be honest. We are also introduced to a black midwife who isn't treated at all like the other slaves and who takes our young Granada under her wing and teaches her the ways of her craft, and much, much more.

I enjoyed this book, as it did feel like I was going back in time when I read it, which did cause problems a few nights because hours would go by and I didn't even realize it. If you like historical fiction, time period storytelling, and characters you can really enjoy, then this book is for you.

Happy Reading!

We Bought a Zoo by Benjamin Mee

We Bought a Zoo is about an English family that pools their money to buy a struggling zoo under threat of being closed. Once the family bought the zoo, I enjoyed this book a great deal. However, it was very slow starting. The opening chapter deals with life in France, as the author's wife is diagnosed with a brain tumor. I'm sure it was very important to the author to include this, but it would have served the book better if it had been covered later in the book as a look back. It dragged the book down and made me reluctant to continue.

The Movie Club is going to see the movie version of this book on January 17. I like to read the book in advance whenever possible, so I forged ahead. The pace picked up considerably at Chapter 3. The anecdotes about getting the zoo ready to reopen were entertaining. There were a couple of instances where the author said something like "but more on that later" but then never returned to the subject, so far as I could tell. I sometimes felt like I was reading an abridged copy of the book. I don't know if editors took something out without realizing there were earlier references, or if the author did get back to the topics but not in an obvious way that I picked up on, but these occurrences niggled at me.

If you are interested in learning more about the Dartmoor Zoological Park, We Bought a Zoo is worth reading. (From what I've seen in the movie trailers, it's going to be quite different from the book.)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

King Peggy by Peggielene Bartels and Eleanor Herman

From Secretary to Royalty! It reads like the title of one of the many paperback romances I re-shelve every day, but the kingship of Peggielene Bartels is not a romantic journey but a triumphant one.

Peggy Bartels, a secretary in the embassy of Ghana in Washington D.C., was claimed as king by the elders of the town of Otuam because of the urging of the long-past ancestors or because of the scheming of the elders or because she was chosen by God or perhaps all of the above. Whatever the means, Peggy found herself suddenly responsible for some 7,000 people in a town across the ocean, her “palace” in ruins, and her financial obligations, including paying the fees for maintaining the “late king in the fridge,” ever-mounting.

Finding the resources to improve the education and living conditions of her people would have been challenging enough without the interference of embezzling and/or power-hungry and/or mentally ill relatives and advisors, but Peggy had the added challenge of only being able to visit Otuam for about two months out of every year. She had to keep her “day job” to help finance all the traditional ceremonial obligations of her position.

King Peggy, co-written by Ms. Bartels and Eleanor Herman, has some of the writing issues typical in co-authored memoirs, but if the writing is occasionally meh, the story is definitely worth reading. King Peggy is due to be released in February.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys

I am so perpetually sleep-deprived that it takes a very special book to keep me up past my bedtime. I started "Between Shades of Gray" after putting the kids to bed one night and didn't put it down again until I'd finished the whole thing hours later. A work of historical fiction that reads like the most horrifying true story, this book revolves around Lina, a 15-year-old girl living with her family in Lithuania in 1941. One night her home is invaded by Soviet officers, her family is split up, and Lina, her mother, and her younger brother are forced into a six-week journey via a crowded, filthy train to a work camp in Siberia. Lina is an artist, and throughout her many months in the work camp she secretly draws pictures and sends them into the world via fellow prisoners or townspeople, hoping they will somehow find their way to her father in his own prison camp.

In her afterward, author Sepetys reveals that she herself is the child of a Lithuanian refugee, which makes this book all the more moving to read. I found it beautifully written and was embarrassed at how little I knew of the history of what happened to the Baltic States. "Between Shades of Gray" is showing up on a lot of people's lists as a front-runner for one of the 2012 YA book awards, and I know I'll be rooting for it.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Pure by Julianna Baggott

Pure by Julianna Baggott is a disturbing book. It is set in the future in the Baltimore area after a terrible series of Detonations have turned the landscape to rubble and damaged everyone not destroyed by the blasts. In view of the ruined city stands a sealed Dome containing survivors who escaped the bombs.

It is nine years since the Detonations. The survivors are horribly damaged. Everyone has burns and embedded glass and metal. The bombs had the ability to merge living flesh and inanimate objects. The main character, Pressia, who is sixteen, was holding a doll when the bombs hit. The doll’s head has taken the place of her left hand. It has become a part of her; when she tries to cut it off, it bleeds. A young man named Bradwell has a living flock of birds in his back; they rustle their wings underneath the shirt he wears over them. A soldier was riding on a motorcycle with his brother behind him when the bombs went off; his brother is now merged into his back, the brother’s arms hanging around his neck.

Those who live outside the Dome eke out a meager living while trying to avoid being killed by Dusts – those who fused with the earth, now more rock than human. At the age of sixteen, the OSR – originally Operation Search and Rescue, now Operation Sacred Revolution – takes you away. No one knows what happens once you are taken, but Pressia is determined to escape the OSR.

Those who live inside the Dome and escaped damage from the blasts are called Pures by the survivors outside. They attend class, eat only pills formulated for optimal health, and undergo “coding.” Not surprisingly, those outside the Dome hate the Pures. When Partridge, one of the Pures, escapes to see if he can find his mother outside the Dome, he meets up with Pressia and Bradwell, and the three begin to question everything they’ve been told about the Detonations and life on the other side.

I had a hard time moving forward with this book. I was very reluctant to keep reading. Just when I thought the images couldn’t get any more disturbing, a passage would prove me wrong. About 60 pages in I was ready to stop reading. The book seemed bleak and humorless. The imagery struck me as heavy-handed. However, I read a stellar review of Pure and decided to keep going. I began to know and care about the characters. Tiny glimpses of humor emerged periodically.

Pure is being compared to The Hunger Games. Although the premise of Hunger Games – teenagers fighting to the death on a reality show – is also disturbing, I found it much easier to read than Pure (which is also the first book in a trilogy). In her acknowledgements, the author notes that she researched the effects of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki while writing Pure and adds, “I hope, in general, that Pure directs people to nonfiction accounts of the atomic bomb – horrors we cannot afford to forget.” I wish I’d read that before I started the book. It sheds a lot of light on where the anguish and horror of Pure is coming from.

As I said, Pure is a profoundly disturbing book. I can’t exactly say that I enjoyed it. But I did get caught up in the characters and the circumstances, and I’m glad I stuck with it. I will be reading the sequels. Anyone who likes to read dystopian novels and can handle disturbing themes and images should give Pure a try.