Monday, December 5, 2016

Gilded Cage by Vic James

From the publisher: Our world belongs to the Equals—aristocrats with magical gifts—and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world. A girl thirsts for love and knowledge. A boy dreams of revolution. And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.

Gilded Cage is a bit like Hunger Games meets Harry Potter. It is set in an alternate, modern Britain. Although they don’t use wands, there are people with magical skills called Equals. They live in luxury while those without magical powers must serve them as slaves for 10 years of their lives. It’s the kind of world imagined by Harry Potter’s Gellert Grindelwald and Tom Riddle.

The perception among those who haven’t served their slavedays is that they aren’t that bad, but they are. While serving their slavedays, people have no rights, and most are not adequately fed, clothed, housed, or cared for medically. Most Equals take their better circumstances as a right, although a few among the Skilled are fighting to end the slaveday system.

Gilded Cage focuses on a family of five that decides to do their slavedays together. (I never really understood how people could choose their slavedays – if you could put it off indefinitely, couldn’t you die before doing them?) The parents and their three children expect to be sent to one of the cushier spots – serving one of the aristocratic Equal families. But their teenaged son Luke gets sent to one of the brutal factory towns instead.

Although the focus and narrative viewpoint of the chapters moves between several characters, Luke and his older sister Abi seem to be the focal point. Abi works with one of the sons of the Equal family who has no Skill (a squib, if you like, although he seems to be the only one around). There is a lame insta-romance between them that really just got in the way.

There are a lot of nuanced characters, and you cannot always tell if they are good or bad. There are some truly evil characters too, and some really good ones. There is also some heavy handed writing (for example, a man in a cage tells Abi, “You’re in – the pen – too….Just – I see – my cage – my leash.” (p. 208 of the advance reader copy)). Many of the scenes (especially those in the factory town Millmoor) felt so familiar I had to remind myself that I haven’t actually read this book before. But there are some original touches, and the plot twists compelled me to keep reading. If you are looking for a well written dystopian novel with interesting characters, you may enjoy Gilded Cage (first in a series).

I read an advance reader copy of Gilded Cage. It will be published in February 2017, and it will be available through the Galesburg Public Library as a print book and an ebook. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

 I give All Our Wrong Todays 4.5 stars. I deducted half a star only because the ending wasn’t perfect (although I don’t have a suggestion for a better ending). Otherwise it is mostly 5 stars  because I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book.

The narrator, Tom Barren, is straight with us right from the first chapter. He lives in our world in 2016. But it’s not supposed to be like this. An unlimited energy source invented in 1965 is supposed to have changed everything, leading to peaceful lives, plenty of food and health care for everyone, transport for all, and plenty of other cool things. But it’s not like that in our current timeline – and Tom himself is to blame. A stupid mistake while stupidly time travelling has changed everything.

Not everything is worse though. Our world is as messed up as we know it to be. But Tom’s personal situation is much, much better. This causes him some highly believable angst, since he knows he need to restore the timeline if possible, no matter what it costs him personally.

Everything in this book seems so plausible, and the time travel science seemed real (whether it is or not) and not too confusing for a nonscientist. I felt I got to know Tom well, given his complicated personal circumstances (I don’t want to spoil anything by saying more), and every now and then Tom hit me with something that I found insightful.

After finding a damaged pocket watch in his original timeline world:
 In the early twentieth century, railroad accidents were commonplace because trains running on the same tracks weren’t accurately synchronized. Keeping time was actually a matter of life or death. A watch like this was made to protect people. Every piece of technology in my world shared a global chronometer, coordinated to the microsecond, a planet of people all living in unison. But this pocket watch was from an era of temporal isolation, a planet of people each inside their own definite of time. (pp. 67-68 of the advance reader copy)
Wow, temporal isolation. What a great concept.

About the new timeline world (our world):
Part of the problem is this world is basically a cesspool of misogyny, male entitlement, and deeply demented gender constructs accepted as casual fact by outrageously large swaths of the human population. Where I come from, gender equality is a given. I’m not talking about absurdly fundamental things like pay equality. I mean that there is no essential difference in the way men and women are perceived in terms of politics or economics or culture. (pp. 159-160)
Maybe the author put this in as a ploy to appeal to his female readers, maybe it’s sincere, but I loved it either way.

At one point he describes his mom as “rereading The Time Machine with what I guess you would call passive-aggressive literary exasperation.” (p. 215) Ha, what a great turn of phrase!

I found this book cleverly constructed and very very entertaining. The author kept me guessing with the plot and threw in twists I didn’t see coming. This would be a perfect book for a long plane ride. Also, it is separated into nice short chapters if you read in short bursts, always a plus for easily finding a place to stop reading.

I read an advance reader copy of All Our Wrong Todays. It will be available for checkout at the Galesburg Public Library in February 2017.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Death Comes to the Fair by Catherine Lloyd

Do you love a good mix of mystery and Regency romance? Then Catherine Lloyd’s Kurland St. Mary mystery series could be for you. 

Major Robert Kurland was seriously injured at Waterloo. Miss Lucy Harrington, a childhood friend, is the daughter of the widowed rector. They live in the charming village of Kurland St. Mary, solve mysteries together, and enjoy a spirited relationship. The fourth book in the series, Death Comes to the Fair, comes out in a few weeks, but the Galesburg Public Library already owns the other books in print and electronic format. The first book in the series is Death Comes to the Village.

I thought book three slipped a bit in quality, but book four was as good as the first two. Major Kurland and Lucy spend a lot of time alone in this one, and there is much worried concern from the rector about her reputation and need for a chaperone. But they always find a way to investigate together.

I read an advance reader copy of Death Comes to the Fair; it will be available at the library in late November.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

How does one go about having a successful, purposeful life? How does one do it if possessions and space have been reduced, as well as freedom of movement beyond confinement in a large, world-class hotel denied? Those are the underlying questions of the latest book by Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow. The gentleman is Count Alexander Rostov, the hotel, the Metropol, located near the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow.

In the early 1920s, Rostov is sentenced to live out his life in the hotel, not in his luxurious suite, but in a tiny room with a pitifully small window. His crime - being of the aristocracy and the author of a controversial poem in the early 1900s. While cutting-edge in political thought at the time, post-Revolution authorities doubt Rostov's true intentions and dedication. Rather than a firing squad or Gulag, Rostov is shown leniency, allowing him to live with the threat that should he ever leave the Metropol he would be shot.

On this set of circumstances the rest of the story evolves, following the life Rostov creates for himself within the hotel for over thirty years. The Count and staff of the hotel are Damon Runyon-type characters with charm and unique quirks. The Count lives his life with order, resolve and positive attitude as well as honor and devotion. The story has subtle humor, unexpected twists and some suspense.

One can easily become wrapped up in the cocoon of the Metropol while elements of the outside world insinuate themselves into and touch that life. Criticism could and has been made that the reader needs to suspend reality from the beginning of the novel. Knowledge of the years from the Bolsheviks, through Lenin and then Stalin and into 1950s Soviet Union make Rostov's sentence incredible. As an aristocrat he would have been shot. His poem is a flimsy protection that could not have survived thirty years without re-evaluation by those in power. Towles draws in elements of political dangers for some characters. However, the full horror of Stalin's rule, as well as the devastation of WWII are not in the forefront. The seismic needle of events in Russian history of this period seems barely to move in the more metronomic life of Count Rostov.

Nevertheless, the story is charming, entertaining and philosophic as we see Rostov's life evolve and answer the questions asked at the beginning of this review. I think this was the author's intent, rather than write a gripping, sweeping narrative of the glories and tragedies of Mother Russia. Instead, Towles is paying attention to what really matters in life, no matter when, where or under what circumstances.

I read the advanced readers' copy after the book was published on September 6, 2016. A copy is  available at Galesburg Public Library.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

From the publisher: At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, she forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows. As danger circles nearer, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

The Bear and the Nightingale is a lovely and lyrical telling or retelling of a fairy tale. (If this is based on a real fairy tale, I am not familiar with it.) The language is beautiful, although a knowledge of Russian might come in handy as I had some trouble keeping the characters and their many nicknames straight. There is a glossary of Russian words at the back. The book has a gorgeous cover.

This is a very slow moving story; readers looking for lots of action will not find it here.  This is not a book that gallops along. It is a quiet, intriguing tale. I will admit, although I enjoyed The Bear and the Nightingale, I really wanted to love it. I don’t need a lot of action, but I would have liked more character development. The characters did not move beyond being one dimensional fairy tale characters, even though the story is 300 pages long. I did enjoy the descriptions and the variety of the many household spirits Vasilisa sees and honors.

The story does not reflect well on the church and organized religion, but it does have a definite and obvious feminist point to make:
All my life,” [Vasilisa] said, “I have been told ‘go’ and ‘come.’ I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man’s servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent god. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. (p. 279)
Some readers may rejoice at this firm and clearly expressed message; I would have preferred something a little more subtle.

If you enjoy novels based on fairy tales and full of beautiful language and imagery, especially those with a strong and spunky female main character, I recommend The Bear and the Nightingale.

I read an advance reader copy of The Bear and the Nightingale. It will be published in January 2017, and the Galesburg Public Library will have the book in print and electronic format.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

What a delight!  The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is a thoroughly enjoyable space opera. A varied crew made up of mostly humans plus individuals from other species live in a patchwork spaceship called the Wayfarer. The crew makes a living by punching tunnels in space for a fee. Each member of the crew is critical to the ship’s livelihood. They are all fairly well developed, though some better than others, and are not uniformly likable. I imagine we’ll see more about each crew member in future books in the series.

This book is episodic, rather than leading to one great conclusion. This serves to build the world and introduce the characters and species. There are varied romantic relationships – between members of the opposite sex of different species, between members of the same sex of different species, between one of the crew and the ship’s AI. The crew includes a human with dwarfism and a member of a species that starts out female and becomes male later in life. This character, Dr. Chef, was my favorite. He is both the doctor and the chef aboard the Wayfarer; his real name in his own language translates to something like “A Grove of Trees Where Friends Meet to Watch the Moons Align During a Sunset in Mid-Autumn," and he is described as being somewhat like an otter crossed with a gecko that walks like a six-legged caterpillar.

Interactions with other species are believable – there are common languages, but not everyone speaks them. Also, humans are not one of the great primary species in this world. After practically destroying Earth, most humans took to space and were fortunate to be rescued from extinction by others. Life in space feels real - for example, some people get physically sick in space.

Although the book is episodic, it also is thought provoking on issues like war and interaction with those who are not like us. The crew members act like a real family, despite their differences. I will definitely read the next book in the series.

The series would make a great TV show. A definite recommend for lovers of (mostly) light-hearted science fiction set in space. 

The Galesburg Public Library owns The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Born with Teeth by Kate Mulgrew

I’m a huge huge fan of Star Trek Voyager – I watched virtually every episode in order as they aired over seven seasons – and so also a fan of Kate Mulgrew (who played Captain Kathryn Janeway). I couldn’t resist reading her memoir, even though I’m not a big memoir reader.

It’s a well written work by one tough cookie. It starts at the beginning of her life and stops five years into Voyager’s run. The book contains a lot of detail, more, really, than I was interested in, and not much about Star Trek (although that was okay). Mulgrew believes in herself and her talent, that’s evident.

I did enjoy this quotation about Robert Beltran’s Chakotay, one of my favorite Star Trek characters: “Strikingly good-looking, he was a curious combination of come hither and go away.” (p. 262) For me it was worth reading Born With Teeth for that quote alone!

If you like memoirs by strong, interesting women, I’d recommend Born With Teeth.

The Galesburg Public Library has Born With Teeth as a print book and as an ebook.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Highest Duty aka Sully by Captain Chesley Sullenberger

From the publisher: the inspirational autobiography by one of the most captivating American heroes of our time, Capt. ‘Sully’ Sullenberger—the pilot who miraculously landed a crippled US Airways Flight 1549 in New York’s Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 passengers and crew.

Highest Duty is the memoir of an ordinary guy who got thrust into the spotlight when he did his job well under pressure. It's a fast read and I enjoyed it, although some readers might find it slow.

The story of the crash, although a small part of the book, is riveting. Sullenberger may not technically be a hero, as someone who just performed when it was required of him, but he is certainly a fine role model.

Words to live by: "I flew thousands of flights in the last forty-two years, but my entire career is now being judged by how I performed on one of them. This has been a reminder to me: We need to try to do the right thing every time, to perform at our best, because we never know which moment in our lives we'll be judged on." (pp. 313-314)

Note: this book is now being marketed under the title Sully. I will be interested to see how much of it makes its way into the movie Sully.

The Galesburg Public Library has print, audio, and ebook versions of this book under one or the other of the titles.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

From the publisher: Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the Forest, Xan, is kind. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon. Xan rescues the children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. As Luna’s thirteenth birthday approaches, her magic begins to emerge--with dangerous consequences. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Deadly birds with uncertain intentions flock nearby. A volcano, quiet for centuries, rumbles just beneath the earth’s surface. And the woman with the Tiger’s heart is on the prowl . . .

Friends, I do not do fantasy. Show me a book with some kind of questing bejeweled lady accompanied by a mythical beast and I will show you my eyes drifting away towards that shiny celebrity memoir over there, or a snack, or a tax form. But a dear friend gave me this book, which was written by a dear friend of hers, and so I gave it a try.

And this book? Is incredible. The thing about me and fantasy is that I have trouble staying connected to a wholly invented world. The setting, the characters, they feel hard to grasp, so when my attention gets diverted from the book (which happens, like, every 10 minutes, because children) I lose my grip and have trouble getting it back. I did *not* have that problem with The Girl Who Drank the Moon. From the first page, there is just something about Barnhill's characters, the way they speak, the way they interact with one another, the way they move within their world, that feels familiar. Xan's immediate connection to Luna... the invisible strands of magic pulling Luna toward her mother against impossible odds... the terrifying concept of a villain who hurts others because she actually FEEDS off of their pain...the seemingly illogical and yet somehow perfect bonds that develop between a swamp monster, a tiny dragon, and a couple of witches and turn them into a family.... I mean, I didn't know I could have feelings of maternal angst toward a dragon named Fyrian, but apparently I can. The book has a real "girl power" theme to it, and not in a trite way; Barnhill examines the everyday magic that connects daughters to mothers, mothers to grandmothers, regardless of biology or origin story.

The language is beautiful. The characters are endearing. The plot elements have a classical fairytale feeling to them, but with a twist: the emphasis, to me, feels less on the story itself and more on who's telling the story. Who defines the narrative? Who controls the magic? Why am I crying?

Anyway. As it turns out, I guess I do fantasy after all. Sometimes.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

If you are a fan of reality TV, then strap yourself in for a wild ride! A first novel by this author, this book will grab you in the gut and not let go until you realize it's 2:00 a.m. and WAY past your bedtime! The characters are well thought out, the plot is new and fresh and the writing is fabulous. It's kind of like a season of Survivor only kicked up ten notches. The main character Zoo is one of 12 contestants in a survival-based reality show, and we pretty much tag along with her. To start, all the contestants get dumped off out in the woods somewhere with very little instruction on how to survive. They have challenges and rewards, and of course, conflict. Plus, there's always that one weird guy. You get to see some of the stuff that goes on behind the scenes of reality TV, which is cool, because I've always imagined that things actually happened that way. After about Day 4 things start to unravel in the real world, but the contestants have absolutely no idea what's going on outside of the show. This is a psychological thriller that will consume you, so be prepared to stay up late reading. I am looking forward to more novels by Alexandra Oliva!! Read On!

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Defense by Steve Cavanagh

This novel has everything I love in a story: Courtroom drama, non-stop action and a crafty, street-wise con artist. What's not to love? The book opens with our hero, Eddie Flynn, standing in front of a bathroom sink with a loaded gun pressed to his back. We don't know much about Eddie, except that he's currently a lawyer and he used to be a con artist - two very valuable skill sets. Eddie has only forty-eight hours to solve the case of his life and the only reason he is involved at all is because his ex-law partner couldn't get the job done. It's apparent (and repeated quite often) that bad things will happen if Eddie messes up. Manipulating situations is key here, and thankfully he learned from the best: his Father. His Father taught Eddie every con, bluff, grift and trick in the book. Eddie will have to use everything he knows about the law as well as reconnecting with people from his past life if he has any chance at all of surviving. If you like legal-thrillers, smart-mouth characters and fast-paced action, this book is for you! This is Steve Cavanagh's first novel and it is a hit in my opinion! Read On!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Gentleman by Forrest Leo

From the publisher: When Lionel Savage, a popular poet in Victorian London, learns from his butler that they're broke, he marries the beautiful Vivien Lancaster for her money, only to find that his muse has abandoned him. Distraught and contemplating suicide, Savage accidentally conjures the Devil, who appears at one of the society parties Savage abhors. The two hit it off: the Devil talks about his home, where he employs Dante as a gardener; Savage lends him a volume of Tennyson. But when the party's over and Vivien has disappeared, the poet concludes in horror that he must have inadvertently sold his wife to the dark lord. Newly in love with Vivian, Savage plans a rescue mission to Hell.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Gentleman, but caution anyone consider reading it that it is definitely not a Victorian novel. It’s more like a 21st century American novel framed by Victorian memes. The many words and actions that would not truly fit within Victorian times did not bother me because the novel does not take itself seriously and so I didn’t take it seriously either.

The book is just fun – I did not go looking for deep meaning. The plot, characters, and dialog are amusing. There were passages that appealed to the English major in me (“I have never known books or love ever to fail, so I don’t see why they’d do so now” (p. 144)) and others that tickled my sense of whimsy. The female characters are no shrinking violets, but modern women with their own strong opinions.

The book is narrated by poet Savage, with occasional footnotes by his editor, a relative of Savage’s wife with whom relations are strained. I found the editor’s notes annoying at first, but eventually they grew on me, as did the character of the editor. The author enjoys poking fun at stereotypes – of the blustery Adventurer, the eccentric Inventor, the competent Butler, and the Devil himself. A lot happens – and nothing much happens at all.

I can imagine that some readers will despise The Gentleman. For example, while writing a poem, Savage tries desperately to make the word “Devil” one syllable, and this becomes a running joke of the sort you either find funny or deeply annoying.

Recommended to people who like nonsense and sweet books that are a little off.

The Galesburg Public Library owns The Gentleman, which is Forrest Leo’s first novel.

PS: The publisher does the author no favors by comparing the book to Wodehouse, as that sets up expectations that cannot possibly be met. Don’t pick this up expecting Wodehouse. 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Secrets of Wishtide by Kate Saunders

From the publisher: Mrs. Laetitia Rodd, aged 52, is a widow living in Hampstead with her confidante and landlady, Mrs. Bentley, who once let rooms to John Keats, Laetitia makes her living as a highly discreet private investigator. Her brother is a criminal barrister living in the neighboring village of Highgate with his wife and ten children. Frederick finds the cases, and Laetitia solves them using her arch intelligence, her iron discretion, and her immaculate cover as an unsuspecting widow. When Frederick brings to her attention a case involving the son of the well-respected, highly connected Sir James Calderstone, Laetitia sets off to take up a position as the family's new governess--quickly making herself indispensable. But the seemingly simple case--looking into young Charles Calderstone's “inappropriate” love interest--soon takes a rather unpleasant turn. And as the family's secrets begin to unfold, Laetitia discovers the Calderstones have more to hide than most. Dickensian in its scope and characters, The Secrets of Wishtide brings nineteenth century society vividly to life and illuminates the effect of Victorian morality on women's lives. Introducing an irresistible new detective, the first book in the Laetitia Rodd Mystery series will enthrall and delight.

I am in my 50s and I enjoyed the premise of The Secrets of Wishtide. It's 1850 and the main character, Mrs. Laetitia Rodd, is a widow of 52 and of limited means. She is kind and intelligent. Her brother, a barrister, sometimes calls upon his sister as a kind of private detective to help him gather information.

I liked Mrs. Rodd, and I enjoyed her relationship with her brother and her landlady Mrs. Bentley (who is apparently based on a real person). The book was inspired by David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, which I totally did not pick up; although I've read David Copperfield I don't remember it all that well. The historical facts seem accurate.

I would have preferred that the book be told in the third person; Mrs. Rodd narrates in the first person, and sometimes her voice seemed a little too modern to me. Also, the author a few times had Mrs. Rodd pause and explain something a reader today may not understand, which pulled me out of the story. (For example, "NB Snapdragon is a game that has understandably fallen from favour; you have to pick currants out of a dish of flaming brandy, and I've lost count of all the cuffs I've burn over the years." (p. 126 of the advance reader copy) and "People don't seem to make Smoking Bishop nowadays: it's a fragrant concoction of red wine, port wine, and spices" (p. 249).)

Mrs. Rodd seems to be telling the story from some point in the future, and I found that odd and a little disconcerting. Although this is said to be the first in a series, there were references to previous cases Mrs. Rodd had worked on, and previous interactions with Inspector Thomas Blackbeard, that made me check to see if this really was the first in a series.

Still, those are not major complaints; I had no trouble staying with the story and wanted to see how it would end. There are plenty of threads left over for future episodes with Mrs. Rodd, and I expect I will pick up the next book in the series if it continues.

I read an advance reader copy of The Secrets of Wishtide. It will be published in mid-September 2016 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

In the Barren Ground by Loreth Anne White

From the publisher: In the Barrens, a vast wilderness in northern Canada bordering the Arctic Circle, night consumes every hour of the winter. Humans are scarce; ferocious predators roam freely. Locals say spirits do, too. Rookie cop Tana Larsson doesn’t mind the dark and quiet. Five months pregnant and hoping to escape the mistakes of her past, she takes a post in Twin Rivers, population 320. With her superior out of commission, Tana becomes the sole police officer in 17,500 square miles. She gets a call about the fatal wolf mauling of two students, and the only way to reach the remote scene is to enlist the help of the arrogant, irritatingly handsome Cameron “Crash” O’Halloran, a local pilot with a shady reputation and a past cloaked in shadow. When the scene they uncover suggests violence much more sinister than animal, Tana must trust Crash if she wants to protect the town—and herself—from the evil that lurks in the frozen dark.
In the Barren Ground is a violent but compelling story set in the wilds of northern Canada. A young female cop is called to the scene of two murders. Amidst the carnage of dead people and dead wolves, there are clues that the deaths may not have been due to an animal attack. The more Tana investigates, the more she believes that a serial killer is at work, setting up crime scenes so they appear to be animal attacks. When the killer feels hunted, the killer’s attention turns to Tana.

The author does an excellent job of building and maintaining tension as the threat grows. She also does a good job of ramping up the growing attraction between Tana and Crash, the local bad boy pilot. I liked Tana as the strong but flawed and vulnerable female main character. Crash was a little more stock.

The killer’s motives are not original, but overall the big reveal of the murderer’s identity was handled well. The way the author works a book about a local legend into the plot is also neatly done. I usually don’t like too much graphic violence in the books I read and found the level of detail in this one off-putting, but I was compelled to keep reading by the strength of the narrative.

I enjoyed the Canadian setting. I don’t know whether the portrayals of Native voices and customs are accurate, but I hope so. They definitely added to the story. The small village has its problems, but the people pull together when they need to. On the whole I’d describe In the Barren Ground as a feel good story of terrible violence.

Although In the Barren Ground is from Montlake Romance, the romance is not prominent. A romantic relationship forms but not quickly. This book reads like the first in a series, and I look forward to reading book 2.

I read an advance reader copy of In the Barren Ground. It will be published on August 16 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Infomocracy by Malka Older

Wow, this is hard book to classify. I found it hard to get into at first - really, really hard. It's set in a near-distant future where nations no longer exist but governments do. Every 10 years groups of 100,000 people choose which government they want to live under.

Many of the governments have formed from corporations, like Coca-Cola and Philip Morris. Others are remnants of former nation states; Liberty it seems pretty clear has sprung from the United States. There is also a global internet organization called Information that is like Facebook and Google etc. many times squared.

I had a hard time getting into Infomocracy because there are so many characters, and many had names I am unused to so I wasn't immediately able to picture even whether they were male or female. The action also jumps all over the world, and the names of all the governments were confusing. The world building was grand and chaotic, and the important characters were compelling. (Some of the characters introduced in the beginning faded away into minor importance.) 

Once I got about 100 pages in I really enjoyed Infomocracy. I wonder if my interest was partly sparked by reading this during the U.S. political conventions. There is a lot of subterfuge, and questions about who can trust who, and think I found that more interesting because there is a U.S. presidential race going on. 

As I said, this book is hard to classify. It's hard to even say, for example, that If you liked xxx, you will enjoy InfomocracyIt is a very intelligent work, and it was refreshing to read something that really, really is not English or American-centric. I recommend it to science fiction readers willing to take a chance on something a little unusual, and to readers looking to take their mind off American politics and the election by reading a book about...politics and an election.

The Galesburg Public LIbrary has Infomocracy as a print book and as an ebook.

Monday, July 4, 2016

A Murder in Time by Julie McElwain

The premise of this novel is preposterous, but if you can get past the implausibility, as I did, you might enjoy it.

Kendra Donovan is a present day, tough FBI agent. After a mission goes horribly bad, she goes rogue and takes off for England to exact revenge on one of the men to blame. While taking part in a reenactment dressed as a 19th century maid, she escapes into a secret passageway in an old English manor. Something happens, and she emerges in the same manor in the 19th century.

She plays the part of a Lady's maid at a manor house party while trying to figure out what has happened to her. She is absolutely hopeless, of course, and very American to boot. (That is used as an excuse for almost everything she does wrong.) Then a woman is found murdered, and her FBI training kicks in.

As I said at the beginning, it's preposterous to think that upper class English men of the 19th century would allow a woman, a servant no less, to investigate a murder, interview her betters, and watch post mortem exams. But the writer did a good enough job convincing me to play along that I quite enjoyed it.

There were some plot twists I did not see coming, and the interactions between the modern day American woman and the 19th century English men were a hoot. Kendra is a strong female lead who foolishly allows herself to get trapped in  a dangerous situation but gets out of it without any help from a man.

If you like mysteries, Regency romance, historical fiction, time travel, strong female leads, or some combination, you might want to read A Murder in Time.

A Murder in Time is the current Big Library Read through the Alliance Digital Media Library, the Galesburg Public Library's download service from Overdrive. Borrow and download the book now through July 7 with your Galesburg Public Library card here:

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Michael Vey: Rise of the Elgen by Richard Paul Evans

Submitted by teen reviewer Natalie:

Michael Vey: Rise of the Elgen is the second book in the Michael Vey series by Richard Paul Evans. In this book, Michael and the rest of the Electroclan have made it out of the Elgen clutches and are now heading back home to start searching for Michael's mother. Little do they know what is in store for them.

Michael finally makes it home, but the Elgen are again one step ahead of them. Michael then finds many Elgen guards waiting for him at his old apartment. In search of places to hide, they end up getting messages from an anonymous voice. This voice claims to not be with the Elgen and that it is trying to help Michael and his friends, but anyone who has information about the Elgen might not be able to be trusted. Finally they find out where Michael's mother is, but it's not anywhere close -- in fact, they have to make their way to Peru!

One of my favorite parts in the book is when Michael does decide to trust the voice. Personally I liked this addition to the series because it reminded me of someone who works behind the scenes, yet is still important to the character and the rest of the story.

I would give this book a 9 out of 10 because I really enjoyed the secret voice, but it did kind of bother me that the author didn't even give a hint of who the voice could possibly be. Age-wise, I would recommend this book to sixth and seventh graders. The book does have quite a bit of action, but nothing too bloody or gory. Not to mention I don't think many eighth graders would be interested in the plotline. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and can't wait to start on the third book in the series.

Michael Vey: Rise of the Elgen is available in libraries and bookstores now.

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

Submitted by teen reviewer Natalie:

Three Times Lucky is about a girl named Mo who has always wondered where she came from, ever since she was found in a hurricane. But after a murder in their small town, some things have changed. Mo has always had a knack for figuring out mysteries. When a detective (who is known as Detective Starr) comes into town asking about a murder, people start acting weird and some of the closest people to Mo are disappearing. Mo decides to get into this mystery to save the ones she loves.

My favorite part of the book is when Mo realizes that she doesn't have to find her birth mother to love someone dearly. She loves the people who have raised her ever since they found her.

I would give this book a 9 out of 10. When the mystery was solved, I never would have expected who it turned out to be. I would recommend the book to anyone who enjoys a good mystery.

Three Times Lucky is available in libraries and bookstores now.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

Submitted by teen reviewer Camellia S:

Love and Gelato is about a girl, Carolina (or just Lina). She has to follow her mother's dying wish to meet Howard. Lina assumes that Howard is her father and decides to stay with him in Italy just for the summer, and then she will go back to her boring life. In Italy next to her father's cemetery/house, she meets the dashing Lorenzo, aka Ren. The handsome soccer player makes Lina question her choice to just stay for the summer. Also another mystery pops up: her mother's journal about the year she lived in Italy, and all the secrets hidden inside it.

I absolutely enjoyed this book! The characters are full of life and they have tons of detail. The plot twists throughout this book are amazing. On a scale from 1 to 10, I would rate this book a 10. It is an adorable story about a girl learning about herself and discovering the trail her mother left behind. I hope you decide to read it and enjoy it as much as I did.

Love and Gelato is available in libraries and bookstores now.

Flawed by Cecelia Ahern

Submitted by teen reviewer Camellia S:

Flawed is a dystopian novel written by Cecelia Ahern. It is about a girl named Celestine and a sudden choice on a bus that could change her life forever. In Celestine's government, people with "flaws" are branded on their head, right hand, sole of their foot, their chest, or their tongue. The person who got the most brandings ever only received three. Celestine is put on trial in her messed up community for having compassion for an old man... wait for it... who is flawed. One of the brandings is for being disloyal to the society (aka helping or aiding another flawed person). It doesn't help that one of the judges has it out for her. Celestine is going to need a lot of strength and help from others if she wants to survive.

Celestine is a force to be reckoned with. She is a strong female character and doesn't trust many people, which is a good thing. With not many to trust and many people after her for many reasons, Celestine is on the brink of survival multiple times.

This book is probably a grade A+. I bawled my eyes out multiple times throughout the book. On a scale from 1 to 10, it's a definite 10. This book is a roller coaster ride full of emotions! I hope you will want to read this book and find out what happens to Celestine. I know you will enjoy it.

Flawed is available in libraries and bookstores now.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Heir by Kiera Cass

Posted for teen reviewer Savanna A.

The Heir is the fourth book in the "Selection" series. King Maxon and Queen America have their firstborn child Eadlyn. When the country is at risk due to unhappiness over the old caste system, the King and Queen decide it is best to start a selection. Eadlyn hates the idea. She isn't ready for marriage - if she'll ever be ready at all. Thirty-five suitors in three months. Who will win her heart? Eadlyn starts realizing that some of these young men aren't so bad after all. So find out what happens next in The Heir.

I give this book and series 10 out of 10! The drama and romance are so amazing! I would recommend it for 13+ or mature readers. I think even adults would like it. It makes you feel like you are a part of the book.

The Heir is available now.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

From the publisher: The story follows Irene, a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. Along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she’s posted to an alternative London. Their mission – to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it’s already been stolen. London’s underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book.

The Invisible Library is an enjoyable mash up of too many things to mention. There is a Sherlock Holmes-like detective, dragons who can take human form, werewolves, vampires, the Fae, a mysterious Library, a mysterious language that is almost like magic but not quite - all set in an alternate Victorian London.

The world building is fine, given that we’ve already visited parts of it in many other fantasy novels. The characters are interesting. The dialog is entertaining. The plot is frantic and engaging. I didn’t worry too much about things that reminded me of other things – I was too busy enjoying myself.

A couple of the things I especially enjoyed:

When Librarian Irene and her student Kai are sent to an alternate world, they are instructed to claim to be “barbarian visitors from Canada.” (“Do you suppose barbarian Canadians wear jeans? “I hope female Canadian barbarians wear trousers….They’re easier to run in.”)

When Irene is invited to a party by one of the local Fae lords, he tells her, “I’ve invited all the best people. Lords, ladies, authors, ambassadors, debauchers, grave-robbers, perverts, sorcerers, courtesans, deranged scientists, and doll-makers.” Doll-makers, ha!

The Invisible Library is a ton of fun, and I look forward to book 2, The Masked City. Recommended for fantasy lovers looking for a fun romp

The Invisible Library will be published on June 14 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library in print and as an ebook

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

From the publisher: Survival is the name of the game as the line blurs between reality TV and reality itself in Alexandra Oliva’s fast-paced novel of suspense. She wanted an adventure. She never imagined it would go this far. It begins with a reality TV show. Twelve contestants are sent into the woods to face challenges that will test the limits of their endurance. While they are out there, something terrible happens. Cut off from society, the contestants know nothing of it. When one of them—a young woman the show’s producers call Zoo—stumbles across the devastation, she can imagine only that it is part of the game. Sophisticated and provocative, The Last One is a novel that forces us to confront the role that media plays in our perception of what is real: how readily we cast our judgments, how easily we are manipulated.

I attended the Public Library Association conference in Denver this spring, and The Last One was one of the hot books people were talking about. I was lucky enough to meet the author and pick up an advance reader copy of her book.

The concept is intriguing – 12 contestants on a reality survival TV show have no idea that a pandemic has broken out. The novel moves back and forth between the early days on the show before the pandemic, as the staff behind the show manipulate how viewers will perceive the 12 contestants, and later days, when the contestants believe they are facing a solo challenge. The later chapters follow one contestant in particular as she stumbles on increasingly distressing scenes that she believes are part of the challenge.

I very much enjoyed reading The Last One. I compare it to the blockbuster Gone Girl in that I wanted to keep reading to see what was going to happen next. It’s not a book I would read a second time, and it will be more enjoyable to read if you don’t know much about the plot. The writing is smooth and the character development good.

I’ve never watched any Survivor episodes and I still enjoyed the book. I think fans of the TV show would like this book even more than I did because of the way the contestants are manipulated and presented to the TV audience.

The plot dragged a bit toward the end and slowed my rush to finish. But the slow period didn’t last very long. This is a debut novel, and to make the story work the author does rely on a couple of plot devices that are hard to believe. I won’t mention one because it would act as a spoiler, but the other involves her eyeglasses. She breaks them early on. Although she breaks into stores to find supplies, she does not look for reading glasses or contacts until late in the book.

But those are minor complaints. I think this would be a great beach or travel read. I often dislike the flat or anticlimactic endings of first novels, but I was quite satisfied by the ending of The Last One¸ and I was happy to see that the author did not feel the need to tack on an epilogue.

I recommend The Last One to anyone looking for an engrossing thriller, especially fans of survivalist fiction. I read an advance reader copy of The Last One; it is scheduled to be published on July 12. It will be available at the Galesburg Public Library in print and as an ebook.

Friday, May 20, 2016

If Bees Are Few: A Hive of Bee Poems, edited by James P. Lenfestey

Publisher description: An anthology of 2,500 years of poetry, from Sappho to Sherman Alexie, humming with bees, at a moment when the beloved honey makers and pollinators are in danger of disappearing. Virgil wrote of bees, as did Shakespeare, Burns, Coleridge, Emerson, and Whitman, among many others. Amid the crisis befalling bees—hives collapsing, wild species disappearing—the poems collected here speak with a quiet urgency of a world lost if bees were to fall silent. A portion of the proceeds from this anthology will be donated to support research at the Bee Lab in the Department of Entomology at the University of Minnesota.

I enjoy poetry and am worried about the status of bees, so this anthology of poems about bees intrigued me. The fact that some of the proceeds will benefit the Bee Lab alone makes it a worthwhile endeavor.

Some of the poems are focused on bees; in other poems, the bees are merely background. Some poems are long and lyrical, and others are  short and modern and to the point about vanishing bees. As usual with anthologies, some of the poems spoke to me and some did not. My three favorite poems were Two New World Bees by John Caddy, Bumblebee in the Basement by James Silas Rogers, and the pedigree of honey by Emily Dickinson:
The pedigree of honey
Does not concern the bee;
A clover, any time, to him
Is aristocracy.
If you enjoy reading poetry written by a variety of poets over thousands of years of human history, you might enjoy dipping in to If Bees Are Few. Be prepared to crave some honey!

I read a digital advance reader copy of If Bees Are Few. It will be published on May 30 and will be available in the new nonfiction section of the Galesburg Public Library.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Windcatcher by A.J. Norfield.

I love fantasy novels involving dragons and enjoyed Windcatcher, the first book in the Stone War Chronicles, by A.J. Norfield. Windcatcher is an old-fashioned (in the best sense) traditional fantasy dragon novel. A small squad of soldiers travels deep into enemy territory in an attempt to retrieve a treasure stolen from their kingdom’s ally. The treasure turns out to be something thought to exist only in legends – a dragon egg. He hatches, bonds with one of the soldiers, and becomes an ally in their fight against the enemy.

First person narrators are all the rage these days, and I’m tired of them. I’m especially tired of unreliable first person narrators. Give me a good old omniscient third person narrator any day. It was refreshing to read Windcatcher from that standpoint – it reads like a throwback fantasy novel. 

Windcatcher starts slowly, but I recognize that one has to take the time to do some world building in a long fantasy series. Once the dragon, Galirras, hatches and joins the cast of characters, things really take off.

The author is also a fan of traditional fantasy, and it shows. Sometimes the story is derivative. For example, on page 300 I could hear the Wilhelm scream used in many blockbusters, including The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, in this sentence: “The soldier disappeared from sight with a high-pitched scream.” But since the book is well written and well plotted, I can forgive the occasional lapse into cliché.

One way in which the book is not quite traditional is that the author does attempt to work in some diversity. For example, there is a “same gender” couple in the small troop, and the human tells the dragon, “Unfortunately, same gender lovers are heavily frowned upon by some. You often hear about such people being ridiculed, beaten up, or worse. They’re ignorant and small-minded people that do those things. I mean, who gave them the right to judge how others should feel?” (p. 159 of the ebook)

I do wish the Evil Bad Guy had a little more depth. He is pretty much a stereotypical, one dimensional fantasy villain. I’d like some explanation as to why he is evil and what motivates him. I was surprised by a violent episode that occurred at the end of chapter 13. It seemed extreme compared to the tone of the rest of the book, and its only point seemed to be “hey, this guy is really evil!” Perhaps we will learn more in the second book. 

Book one definitely does not stand alone. It stops in the middle of the story, and I’m ready for book two. If you like immersive traditional fantasy novels, especially those involving dragons, I recommend Windcatcher. It will be available in print at the Galesburg Public Library within the next month.

I was given a free digital copy of Windcatcher by the author in exchange for an honest review. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger

Publisher Description: College grad Bailey Chen has a few demons: no job and a rocky relationship with Zane, her only friend when she moves back home. But when Zane introduces Bailey to his fellow monster-fighting bartenders, her demons get a lot more literal.

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge is a silly and entertaining tale of cocktails that give one the power to fight demons.

The fighting demons with cocktails conceit wore a little thin, but the robust plot kept me going as a reader. There was one shockingly out of place incident that won't make dog lovers happy, but otherwise the violence is of the over-the-top demon fighting kind. Overall, I’d rate this book a little gimmicky but amusing and fun. It definitely does not take itself seriously. (The demons are called tremens - a group of them? A delirium.) It also has a diverse cast of characters, always welcome.

I loved the Chicago setting and details. The cover says the writer lives in L.A., but I have to believe from the accurate Chicago vocabulary that he was a Chicagoan at one time. Some lines made me laugh out loud (off to fight demons and the bad guy, the main character’s hair was “styled to weather both Chicago winds and possibly the end of the world.” p. 327 of the advance reader copy).

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge really feels like a “new adult” novel (although I do hate that label). (“She’d spent so much of the past two months running from her old self, but for the first time she felt maybe she didn’t have to. … What mattered was the future, and she still had plenty of that left.” (p. 276) This from a recent college graduate.)

Recommended for lovers of urban fantasy like Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files and for “new adult” Chicagoans who like quirky fantasy. In fact, if you are a Chicagoan or ex-Chicagoan of any age and the book’s description intrigues you, give it a shot. The opening of the author’s Acknowledgments give you an idea of what to expect: 
The hardest part about writing the acknowledgments for a book I wrote is finding a way to stretch the words “Great job, Paul!” See, that’s the thing about this book: I wrote it all by myself. If there’s anyone to acknowledge, it’s definitely just me and me alone. Well, me and Mira. I will definitely thank her. She’s my roommate’s cat, and she spent most of the draft process lying quietly in a nearby sunbeam. It was the single most inspiring thing I’ve ever seen. (p. 280 of the ARC)
 I read an advance reader copy of Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge. It will be published on June 7 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library as a print book and an ebook.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Reliance, Illinois by Mary Volmer

Publisher description: Illinois, 1874: With a birthmark covering half her face, thirteen-year-old Madelyn Branch is accustomed to cold and awkward greetings, and expects no less in the struggling town of Reliance. After all, her mother, Rebecca, was careful not to mention a daughter in the Matrimonial Times ad that brought them there. When Rebecca weds, Madelyn poses as her mother’s younger sister and earns a grudging berth in her new house. Deeply injured by her mother’s deceptions, Madelyn soon leaves to enter the service of Miss Rose Werner, prodigal daughter of the town’s founder. Miss Rose is a suffragette who sees in Madelyn a project and potential acolyte. Madelyn, though, wants to feel beautiful and loved, and she pins her hopes on William Stark, a young photographer and haunted Civil War veteran. 

Reliance, Illinois appealed to me because it is set in a fictional small town in Illinois on the banks of the Mississippi. The description on the back of the book made me laugh ("offers a large-hearted look at the stories animating a small town: gossip, murder, love and hate, lace making and drunken fist fights, sinners, saviors, and even an appearance by Mark Twain himself").

The book seems exhaustively researched. It exhausted me just reading all the details. There are many characters and I had some trouble keeping them straight. The narrative and the history are fine, but character development isn't one of the novel's strengths. The one part that didn't ring true to me was a section on the names of female private parts and a certain contraceptive device. While I'm sure there were women trying to spread the word about and the availability of contraception, it just seemed a little too forward to me. 

If you enjoy historical fiction with a touch of humor and bigger than life colorful characters, you may enjoy Reliance, Illinois.

I read an advance reader copy of Reliance, Illinois.  It will be available at the Galesburg Public Library starting May 10.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Arcadia by Iain Pears

From library patron Norm:

Arcadia follows characters in three different worlds. The author is well known for running different narrative streams in his novels, whether it’s seeing the same events or small period of time from the point of view of several different characters or telling stories from different time periods centuries apart, so he knows how to move effectively from one place, time, and character to another, and he creates interesting characters and situations in each. One of them is as far as we know the world we are familiar with, its setting the Oxford of the 1950’s, and while one character finds a gate to a different world, another is charged with finding a mole in the British Secret Service. The second is apparently a highly technological and overcrowded world in the future run by scientists (not the enlightened rulers one would wish) where there is tension with green back-to-nature enclaves, and a brilliant scientist who warns that a scheme to travel to parallel universes will bring disaster vanishes with vital resources and becomes the subject of a manhunt. The third is the delightful rural world of the title, with scholars who interpret the sacred “story,” idyllic celebrations, romantic love, and wronged noblemen.

There are engaging characters in each world, and the plots play out well in all of them. It wouldn’t be any fun, though, if the characters from one world didn’t find their way to the others, and if we didn’t eventually realize that characters we meet in one world were originally from another. How all this happens and the mystery of how these three worlds are connected is a mystery, the solution to which makes an interesting if grim variation on the familiar science fiction parallel universes convention. As far as the characters we focus on are concerned the ending is happy, but how happy on the large scale it is would make a very interesting discussion.

In case I didn’t make it clear, I really enjoyed this book and recommend it highly. 

 - Norm

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine

From the publisher: Kate Morton meets Daphne du Maurier in this atmospheric debut novel about a woman who discovers the century-old remains of a murder victim on her family’s Scottish estate, plunging her into an investigation of its mysterious former occupants.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Sarah Maine’s debut novel The House Between Tides. In 2010, Hetty Deveraux contemplates turning the massive house that she has inherited on a remote Scottish island into an upscale hotel. She meets resistance from the cordial but cool locals, who have just found the remains of a body in the decaying home as Hetty arrives to examine the property. Her pushy boyfriend Giles and the two shallow agents he has employed consider the hotel a done deal, but Hetty is not so sure.

The narrative flashes back and forth between 2010 and 1910, when young Beatrice arrives on the island as a new bride with her much older husband, artist Theo Blake. Woven throughout the story are works of art, loves lost, family mysteries, and wild birds.

The descriptions of the island in the Hebrides are very evocative. The author also captures the mansion in its glory in 1910 and in its moldering state in 2010. As a bird lover, I was interested in the thread about the irony of birdwatchers of the past shooting birds and collecting their eggs, no matter how rare or endangered. I was reminded of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black because the house can only be reached when the tide is out, but otherwise they are quite different books. (However, if you liked The Woman in Black you will probably enjoy this book also.)

The House Between Tides is not a perfect book. It takes Hetty too long to grow a spine, and the “bad guy” boyfriend and agents are stereotypical with no depth. Some of the family mysteries are obvious from the start, and I guessed the identification of the body long before the end. Still, I stayed up late finishing The House Between Tides, something I don’t do that often anymore. I also love the cover!

I recommend The House Between Tides to lovers of romantic gothic fiction and mysteries. I read an advance reader copy. It will be published in August 2016 and will be available for checkout at the Galesburg Public Library as a print book and an ebook.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Tale of Shikanoko: Emperor of the Eight Islands by Lian Hearn

From the publisher: In the first book of the four-volume Tale of Shikanoko, an epic adventure begins in the mythical, medieval Japan of Lian Hearn's imagination: a world of warriors and warlords, of fallen emperors, lost princesses, and demonic assassins; a world bound by tradition and colored by unpredictable magic. All four volumes of the Tale of Shikanoko will be published in 2016. 

Emperor of the Eight Islands is an amazing story. I felt fully immersed in the author's mythical Japan of the past. Shikanoko's father is killed in a game of Go with clever and cruel mountain goblins. His uncle promises to bring him up as his own child, but soon the uncle wants his nephew's title and estates. Shikanoko accompanies his uncle on a hunting trip and knows he is not expected to survive the trip and return. When his uncle aims an arrow at him, the uncle hits a stag instead. Shikanoko tumbles down a cliff with the dying animal and is presumed killed. He takes the deer's antlers and assumes a new identity, the deer's child, under the influence of a sorcerer.

And thus we are pulled into a magical world. The flow of the plot, the character development, the mysticism, and the action is amazing. I've never read anything by the author before but am impressed.

I did have problems keeping the characters straight, as I am not knowledgeable about Japanese names and many of them sounded quite similar to me. It didn't help that many of the characters have nicknames, and the names of places often sounded similar to the names of people. I think anyone who enjoys mythology, especially lovers of Japanese mythology and culture, will be intrigued by Emperor of the Eight Islands.

I read an advance reader copy of Emperor of the Eight Islands. It will be published on April 16 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

From the publisher: The bestselling author of A Man Called Ove returns with an irresistible novel about finding love and second chances in the most unlikely of places. Britt-Marie can’t stand mess. A disorganized cutlery drawer ranks high on her list of unforgivable sins. And she is not passive-aggressive. Not in the least. It's just that sometimes people interpret her helpful suggestions as criticisms, which is certainly not her intention. But hidden inside the socially awkward, fussy busybody is a woman who has more imagination,bigger dreams, and a warmer heart that anyone around her realizes. When Britt-Marie walks out on her cheating husband and has to fend for herself in the miserable backwater town of Borg she is more than a little unprepared. Employed as the caretaker of a soon-to-be demolished recreation center, the fastidious Britt-Marie has to cope with muddy floors, unruly children, and a (literal) rat for a roommate. In this small town of big-hearted misfits, can Britt-Marie find a place where she truly belongs? Funny and moving, observant and humane, Britt-Marie Was Here celebrates the unexpected friendships that change us forever, and the power of even the gentlest of spirits to make the world a better place.

I loved A Man Called Ove. Although I don’t like comparing it to Britt-Marie Was Here, it’s hard not to as the stories are similar in many ways. (We even have a rat taking the place of the Cat Annoyance.) If I didn’t know they were written by the same author, I would have thought “I’ve read this story before but Backman did it much better.”

If I did not know otherwise, I would also think that Ove is the later novel and Britt-Marie the earlier. Britt-Marie feels like a first draft of Ove, and Ove reads like the work of a more seasoned writer. The character of Ove felt like a real person to me, and I found the changes he underwent and the relationships he built completely believable. Britt-Marie does not feel like a real person, and I felt that her changes happened too quickly and not very credibly. I also found her a much less sympathetic character.

Britt-Marie also felt much more like a translation to me than did A Man Called Ove. I wondered if some phrases used multiple times made more sense in Swedish. For example, Britt-Marie often says “Ha” or “Ha. Ha.” when she is not laughing or expressing humor and this didn’t quite work for me.

I’m still glad I read Britt-Marie Was Here, as Backman’s gentle warmth still comes through in passages I enjoyed, like this one:
All her words to him are like staying in a hotel, new and curious and tentatively fumbling for switches on the wall, repeatedly turning on different lights than those she wanted to turn on. (p. 243 of the ARC)
I liked the charming 60-something policeman Sven and his many many courses to learn something new. It's nice to see books about romance and middle-aged people. I will definitely read whatever Backman writes next and recommend Britt-Marie Was Here to his fans.

I read an advance reader copy of Britt-Marie Was Here. It will be published on May 3 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library in regular and large print.