Friday, September 4, 2015

Redoubt by Mercedes Lackey

Reviewed by Holly White

Redoubt is the sequel to Changes, and the fourth in the Collegium Chronicles quintet.  Redoubt takes up where we left off in the story of Herald Trainee Mags.  Mags’s circle of friends includes Lena, a Bardic Trainee, Bear, a Healer Trainee, and Amily, the daughter of King’s Own Herald Nikolas.  In addition, Herald Nikolas has also started training Mags to be a spy for the Crown.  Mags must learn to go into the city unobtrusively, and observe others while going unnoticed himself.
In Redoubt, Mags’ friends Lena and Bear, facing a huge problem, make a life-altering choice that could either cost them their future, or make it.  Mags himself still keeps up with his studies, remains a star player in kirball, nurtures his budding relationship with Amily, and spends time with Nikolas down in the city of Haven.  There, he and Nikolas run a pawn shop together, with Mags pretending to be the deaf mute “son” of Nikolas’ persona, the Weasel, a gruff pawn broker.  They use the pawn shop to collect information from unsuspecting informants.  Often Mags has to stay at the shop overnight to make sure the shop stays open while Herald Nikolas is needed at some King’s Own Herald business.  Sometimes when Nikolas is there, Mags unobtrusively tails suspicious characters, usually traveling from rooftop to rooftop, where most folks never think to look.  Things get complicated when, during one of these rooftop ventures, Mags begins to feel like he’s being watched, but neither Dallen nor him using their powers can figure out who is doing the watching or from where.  The only conclusion they can reach is that Mags is being haunted.  Things get even more complicated when Mags gets kidnapped.  As a Heraldic Trainee, Mags has learned at least a smattering of all the foreign languages of the nearby countries, but his kidnappers speak a language of which he cannot recognize even a word.  Mags is being carried ever father away from all that he knows, and on top of that, his mindspeech is somehow gone; he cannot call out to Dallen or anyone else for help.
Will Bear and Lena’s choice shatter their dreams, or will it give them everything they’ve always wanted?  Will Mags be able to sort out his own feelings for Amily?  Will Mags ever find out who, or what, was watching or haunting him, and why?  Will Mags be able to escape from his foreign captors?  Will he find a way to contact Dallen or someone for help?  Will he ever get his mindspeech back, or will he have to learn to live without it?  Find out by reading Redoubt. 
If you love fantasy, good vs. evil stories, with romance, magic, espionage, and adventure, then you will love Redoubt.  This book and others in the series spend far too much time, in my opinion, on the kirball games and their strategies, which to me, does not advance the plot at all.  But sports fans will probably enjoy that part of the book best.  Not being into sports at all, I wish she would have just said, “So-and-so Team won the kirball match and then this is what happened next.”  Be all that as it may, though, Redoubt is still an enjoyable read with a satisfying ending, but not so satisfying that you don’t want to read the next book.  My next review will be on the fifth book in the Collegium Chronicles quintet, Bastion.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Nevermore: Mystery, History, and More!

 Reported by Ambrea

At Nevermore this week, our readers encountered a variety of books—including some audiobooks—and revisited some familiar titles, such as Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain and Believer:  My Forty Years in Politics by David Axelrod.

To start off, one of our readers looked at a pair of audiobooks:  The Last Surgeon by Michael Palmer and The 11th Hour by James Patterson.  In The Last Surgeon, Nick Garrity, a veteran suffering from PTSD who spends his time working at a clinic in Baltimore to help the homeless, and Jillian Coates, a psychiatric nurse, are pitted against a dangerously efficient killer, an assassin who goes by the name of Franz Koller—a man who will stop at nothing to catch and kill his intended victims.  In The 11th Hour, Patterson returns with his Women’s Murder Club and another terrifying series of murders, beginning first with the death of a millionaire and ending with the discovery of bodies in a famous actor’s garden!  According to our Nevermore reader, both audiobooks were excellent.  Although this was her third time reading 11th Hour, our reader enjoyed it immensely and highly recommended the Women’s Murder Club novels.

Next, our readers dived into history with Across the Plains in 1844 by Catherine Sager Pringle.  Sager’s narrative recounts her family’s harrowing journey from Ohio to Washington, enduring harsh conditions and great tragedies of the Oregon Trail.  Considered one of the most authentic accounts of the American westward migration, Sager’s memoir chronicles an extraordinary passage of time in which all 8 of the Sager children were orphaned, rescued and adopted by Narcissa and Marcus Whitman, and endured an attack by the local Cayuse tribe in Washington.  Our Nevermore reader thought Across the Plains was absolutely fascinating, saying, “It’s just so amazing to me that people end up doing [things like this]…that people survived.”

Another reader picked a Scandinavian mystery:  When the Devil Holds the Candle by Karin Fossum.  Inspector Konrad Sejer and his colleague Jacob Skarre are confronted with dark possibilities in their town, confronting the death of an infant and the disappearance of a delinquent youth—and all the terrible connections they will find.  Our reader, who is attempting to read all of Fossum’s work, enjoyed the fourth installment of Fossum’s Inspector Sejer series.  Although she said it doesn’t have a happy ending, she was glad that all the “bad people get their due.”

Next, our readers looked at a satire of historical proportions in Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes (translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch).  Vermes novel opens with Adolf Hitler—in 2011.  After waking from 66 years of sleep, Hitler discovers a Germany that’s entire changed:  social media spreads new ideas and fuels celebrity obsession; cities are multicultural, meshing together races, ethnicities, religions, and more into one common community; Germany is led by a woman.  And Hitler is suddenly jettisoned into popularity for the public believes he’s an impersonator of incredible skill—until he begins his own political party.  Full of references to events in World War II and brimming with a darkly comical humor, Look Who’s Back was a fascinating novel that was “very, very well done,” according to our Nevermore reader.

Two of our readers also revisited Quiet and Believer, rounding out our meeting with new impressions of the same material.  For our reader, Quiet, which examined the differences between and stressed the importance of extroverts and introverts of society, was a fascinating piece of work.  Although it read almost like a textbook, providing interesting little nuggets about introverts and extroverts (such as how introverts prefer meeting people in a friendly, noncompetitive context, and extroverts prefer meeting others in a competitive context), our Nevermore reader enjoyed Susan Cain’s study.

Believer, on the other hand, produced a divided opinion at the meeting this time.  One reader confirmed her original opinion of Axelrod’s work, saying she still enjoyed it as she drew to the final few pages; however, another reader disagreed, saying she wouldn’t finish it.  It “confirmed my opinion of people who are good, [reinforced my opinion] who I liked,” she said.  Showing the clash between idealism and reality, Axelrod showed the meaning of compromise—and, in some cases, showed how many politicians begin as good people and manage to compromise their values in the pursuit of political power—which turned our reader away from finishing

Ending on a lighter note, our Nevermore readers rounded out our meeting with The Public Library:  A Photographic Essay by Robert Dawson.  Filled with more than 150 photos of libraries spread across the country, The Public Library explores the importance and, in some cases, decay of one of America’s most important institutions.  Our Nevermore reader said it was interesting to see the history of libraries, to read short commentaries by writers such as E.B. White, Amy Tan, Barbara Kingsolver, Ann Patchett, Dr. Seuss and others, and to get a visual exploration of some of America’s most memorable libraries.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Reviewed by Ambrea

Richard Mayhew is an ordinary young man with an ordinary job, a girl friend, and an ordinary life, but, when he stops to help a mysterious girl he finds wounded on a sidewalk in London, his life changes forever.  Suddenly thrust into a world he never knew existed, a London Below that mirrors London Above, he becomes embroiled in a strange and terrifying mystery—and he must learn to survive in a new world where monsters, saints, murderers and angels are the norm.

When I first dived into Neverwhere, I really wasn’t sure what to make of it.  Door is an endearing and (most of the time) sweet character, if only a little scary.  De Carabas is unusual, possibly dangerous, but always interesting.  And Richard Mayhew—well, I simply felt sorry for the poor guy who manages to get mixed up in all the madness.  Together, they have a very intriguing dynamic and an interesting story to weave, which, much like London Below, doesn’t always make sense.

Laced with urban legends, myth, human history, horror, and religious detritus, Neverwhere is an intriguing blend of many different things.  Although I distinctively noticed a familiar “good versus evil” trope, Neverwhere managed to make it an epic struggle for survival, life versus complete oblivion, which felt fresh and new.  However, it is a story that has no clear resolution.  The conclusion feels abrupt, leaving certain narrative threads dangling.

Likewise, I should point out that there is death involved, which is gruesome and disheartening on its own, but, coupled with Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar, it’s downright bloody—and one might even say, macabre.  Moreover, I found the world under London to be incredibly frightening as I read along.  There’s something inherently terrifying about the notion of an invisible world existing beneath everything, of getting sucked into it and being completely, utterly forgotten.

Total obscurity is a frightening thing.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Fall's Bounty of Books!

Survey by Jeanne

Elly Griffiths, author of the mystery series featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway, is starting a new series.  The premise is that there was a special ops unit in WWII composed of magicians and illusionists who used their skills to confound and confuse the enemy.  Now the war is over, but there’s a killer who seems to be using some of their old tricks.  Look for The Zig Zag Girl  in September.

Fans of Stieg Larsson may want to check out The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz.  It's a continuation of Larsson's Millennium series, authorized by his father and brother.  The early descriptions promise international intrigue, computer hacking, the NSA, and the return of Lisbeth Salander.

Also due out in September is Catherine Coulter’s new book in her Brit in the FBI series.  Entitled End Game, it’s co-authored by J.T. Ellison, and has Drummond and Caine investigating a radical environmental group which is planning a violent attack.  The reviews promise plot twists, thrills, and perhaps some romantic complications.

Local favorite Adriana Trigiani has written several fiction books based on family stories.  Now she’s written the story of movie star Loretta Young using the same blend of fact and fiction.  Young was much in demand as an actress during Hollywood’s Golden Age and weathered both success and scandal.  She worked and socialized with Clark Gable, Cary Grant, John Wayne, David Niven, and many more.  This should be a fascinating, entertaining book!  The title is All the Stars in the Heavens.

Homer Hickam is another local favorite, best known for Rocket Boys (aka October Sky) and  The Coalwood Way. His stories of growing up in a small coal mining town in West Virginia where his father was  a miner struck a chord with readers here. His new novel is Carrying Albert Home:  The Somewhat True Story of a Man, His Wife, and Her Alligator.  I’m not quite sure what it is about, but the title alone makes me want to read it. (Actually, on his website Mr. Hickam says it's about love and is a sort of prequel to Rocket Boys, since it's based on an event in his parents' lives. I stand by my earlier statement, however:  the title alone is enough to make me want to read it!)

When the first mystery by Robert Galbraith appeared, it rather slipped under the radar—until it was revealed that J.K. Rowling was the author.  Then sales soared and critics either loved or hated the book with equal passion.  Now Rowling—er, Galbraith—has brought private detective Cormoran Strike back in a third novel, The Career of Evil.  When Strike’s assistant receives a package containing a woman’s severed leg, the search is on for someone from the detective’s past with a penchant for violence and brutality.  It’s due out October 20.

Nicholas Sparks fans, October 13 is going to be your lucky day!  Sparks’ new book, See Me, should be out that day.  The plot revolves around a young man who falls in love with the daughter of Mexican immigrants.  Then a danger from her past threatens their relationship and perhaps their lives.

When Vince Flynn passed away in 2013, he was working on the 14th Mitch Rapp book.  His estate and his long time editor engaged the services of thriller writer Kyle Mills to complete The Survivor, which will be out in October.  Mills will write two more Mitch Rapp books.

John Grisham has made quite the career writing about the legal profession.  His latest is Rogue Lawyer, due out October 20.  Sebastian Rudd defends those that no other attorney wants to touch: drug lords, child molesters, a man who shot at a SWAT team.  He has a mobile office in a van complete with bullet-proof glass, a bar, and a hidden gun compartment.  He believes in very little—except that everyone is entitled to a fair trial.  

Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and Detective Sargeant Barbara Havers are back in Elizabeth George’s new novel, A Banquet of Consequences. What do a suicide in Dorset and a murder in Cambridge have in common? That’s just what Lynley and Havers are trying to unravel in this new mystery. Early reviews suggest that this is a return to form for George, and should be welcome news to those fans who have been a bit disappointed with her recent novels. Everyone should be able to judge come October.

In November, David Baldacci fans can look forward to the return of Will Robie, whom we first met in The Innocent.  Will and his father have been estranged since Will left his home in Mississippi right after high school.  Now his father has been arrested for murder, and Will is determined to find out exactly what happened in The Guilty.

Another view of Albert
And here's one of the actual descriptions of the book: 

CARRYING ALBERT HOME is the story of a love triangle. Homer loves Elsie.  Elsie loves Albert. It's classic. Except there's a difference to this ménage à trois, a rather large, scaly one. Albert is an alligator.