Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahan

A Creature of Moonlight is a coming-of-age story by new author Rebecca Hahn about a girl who is half dragon and half human. One of my favorite books of 2012, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, was also a coming-of-age story about a girl who is half dragon and half human, so I began A Creature of Moonlight with great expectations.

It’s good – not Seraphina good but good. It started out strong and then sort of lost its way. It picked up at the end but never fully recovered. The girl, Marni, has a sort of romance with a man we aren’t sure whether to trust, and the relationship didn’t get resolved to my satisfaction.

The magic of the forest, including the mysterious “lady” who encourages Marni to come deeper into the woods, and Marni’s dragon father don’t seem particularly original. At one point Marni leaves the flower farm she has grown up on and goes to Court, leaving the farm abandoned. Earlier in the narrative a cow and chickens were mentioned, and Marni seems not to give them a thought as she heads out. (Later she visits the farm and thinks, “I haven’t heard Dewdrop or the chickens since we came down; no doubt some villagers will have come and taken them for themselves.” That seems a pretty calloused attitude and not in keeping with her character.)

However, the author does have a lovely, lyrical voice. “And  Annel would tell us stories, Gramps and me, and he would listen quietly, scarce moving, and I would eat them up like a river eats stones, rushing, gobbling every passing word, slipping on from tale to tale to tale.”

I liked Marni’s relationship with her aunt (by marriage) and her independent spirit. I enjoyed the book, and had no trouble finishing it. A good but not outstanding debut. I look forward to future works from this author. Lovers of slow moving fantasy with rich language might enjoy A Creature of Moonlight.

I read an advanced reader copy from Netgalley. The Galesburg Public Library owns A Creature of Moonlight; it can be found in the Young Adult area.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Hunting Shadows by Charles Todd

"Charles Todd" is the pen name used by a mother-son writing team. They write two historical mystery series. The Inspector Ian Rutledge series has 16 books so far.

A disclaimer - I have yet to "read" an Inspector Ian Rutledge book. I have listened to a handful. I don't know what it is about Simon Prebble as a narrator, but he has one of the best voices I've heard for keeping me awake and engaged while driving long distances. He is right up there with Rob Inglis (narrator of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) and Jim Dale (narrator of the American editions of The Harry Potter series).  When I listen to Simon Prebble I just want the story to keep going. I listened to Hunting Shadows over about a month.

Inspector Rutledge is an interesting character, a Great War veteran with PTSD and a guilt-induced imaginary companion who haunts him. Rutledge is particularly careless in Hunting Shadows, allowing himself to be vulnerable in front of murder suspects, but since he sometimes thinks about killing himself to be rid of the guilt that's not *that* hard to accept. It's nice that he is a flawed character. I do think he could benefit from a regular companion (one that is alive, that is). I'd love to see more of his sister in the books.

The mystery is fine, the plot is fine. This isn't great literature but highly enjoyable historical fiction. And Simon Prebble is awesome! I'd listen to him read anything.

I recommend both series by Charles Todd. The Bess Crawford series is about a Great War nurse. The Galesburg Public Library has both series in multiple formats, and a number of audiobooks narrated by Simon Prebble.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Destroyer Angel by Nevada Barr

I am a big fan of Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon series, but have felt that the most recent novels have lacked something that previous books had.  I’ve still enjoyed them, but not as much. Nevada Barr is a former park ranger with a great love of the outdoors, and reading her books is a great way to vicariously visit public parks and lands in the United States.

In Destroyer Angel, Anna Pigeon is back in form. I read this book in one afternoon on a train (interrupted only by lunch and Henry V performed by Chicago Shakespeare). My stress and anxiety level was high as I raced through it.

Anna has always been the model of a strong empowered woman, and this book kicks that up a notch. Five women go camping. They include Anna (a park ranger on vacation); a genius scientist designer of camping equipment with a touch or Asperger’s or something similar; her attitudinal teenaged daughter; a woman paralyzed from the waist down; and her adopted teenaged daughter who survived a run-in with a psychopath years before. There is an elderly dog along for good measure.

While Anna is off canoeing on her own, four armed men come into camp on a mission. They take the four women captive and believe their story that the fifth woman cancelled at the last minute. Although they are being paid to kidnap only the scientist and her daughter, they are convinced to keep the other two alive for ransom. They plan to get the women out of the woods to an airstrip. Anna hears the fuss and begins planning the best way to save her friends and defeat the villains.

Anna’s husband hardly appears in this book, which is a welcome change. I don’t dislike him but he’s just not all that interesting. (I preferred previous beau Fred the Fed.) All the males that figure heavily in this story are bad (with the exception of the dog). The women react to the trials of marching through the forest at gunpoint (and being beaten, shot, and burned) in differing ways, but all prove their mettle before the book ends. And Anna stalks her prey with a clear head and a cold heart.

“Losing their trail, or keeping up with the thugs, was not a concern. Regardless of no food and a gimpy dog, the day she could not follow a pack of city boys through the woods would be the day she’d find an ice floe upon which to sit and wait for a polar bear with her name on it.” (p. 95)

Sure, there are some plot points that stretch credulity, but not so far they undermine the thrill of the chase. Anna is small and middle-aged, but she just keeps coming, and her behavior at every stop of the way is believable. The four women and the four thugs are all well drawn and developed. Barr makes great use of the environment – upstate Minnesota – as she does in all her books. Her descriptions are so real you feel like you are hiding behind that rock with Anna, waiting to kill a man in cold blood.

The tension starts early and keeps building until near the end. If you are a fan of Anna Pigeon, you definitely need to read this book. If you are a mystery fan or like to read about strong female characters and haven’t yet found Anna Pigeon, get started! The first book in the series is Track of the Cat. The Galesburg Public Library has the entire Anna Pigeon series, including Destroyer Angel.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The High Druid's Blade by Terry Brooks

Terry Brooks has been publishing books since the 1970s and has written over two dozen set in his fantasy world of Shannara. The High Druid’s Blade is his newest, scheduled to be published in July 2014. I had the opportunity to read and review an advance reader copy.

The High Druid’s Blade is advertised as “the perfect jumping-in place for new readers,” and I am indeed a new reader of Terry Brooks. Before reading this book I knew nothing of Shannara. The story was easy to read and to get drawn into. Although there are made up names and words, they are not abundant to the point of distraction (although I did wonder how some of them were pronounced – Leofur? is it just like it reads? sounds odd). The introductory material is brief, only 8 pages, before we plunge into action on page 9.

The plot is not overly complicated. There are many characters, but for the most part the attention is focused on only a few. There are several strong female characters. I had a little trouble keeping all the Druids apart, although I was easily able to guess the name of the traitor in their midst long before the Big Reveal.

I did tire of the many references to things that happened in the past, no doubt nods to previous works. They sometimes felt a little forced, like Brooks was trying to make sure this book tied in to his older books for long-time readers. Although this is advertised as “the first stand-alone Shannara novel,” it obviously isn’t. The ending clearly points to at least one sequel.

I’ll admit, I was not wowed by The High Druid’s Blade. I know Brooks is one of the modern fantasy greats and I expected more somehow. It was good but not great. However, I probably shouldn’t judge an author by his 25th (or whatever it is) novel set in his fantasy world. I did enjoy reading The High Druid’s Blade and will be on the lookout for the sequel. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Dangerous by Shannon Hale

Dangerous by Shannon Hale (the author of the marvelous Princess Academy) is a junior high superhero fantasy. Five nerdy smart kids get called to space camp, are infected with some sort of alien technology, and gain superpowers. The main character, Maisie Danger Brown, was born without a right hand, so there is the added bonus that the experience is super-empowering for her (and she gets the chance to live up to her middle name). The adventure ends, of course, with a chance to save the world and a bit of a soppy romance. The product details say the age range is 12-17 or grades 7 and up, but it seems better suited to fifth and sixth graders to me.

There is a lot of superhero-type action. The humor is not particularly original. The romance triangle is not original. The plot is easy to follow if predictable; the character development is also predictable. Still, it’s a coming-of-age story that may resonate with some kids, and the main character does have a physical limitation that she overcomes.

I read an advance reader copy of Dangerous; it was published in March 2014.