Monday, January 30, 2017

The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron

Reviewed by Rita

We are made of our memories. This is what seventeen year old Nadia and others in the city of Canaan are taught. That’s why everyone in Canaan has a book tied to their body: they must write down everything they want to remember or else all will be lost in the Forgetting. Every twelve years, there is a night of violence in which all memories are lost: memories of family, of friends, even one’s own identity. The only way to preserve one’s self is to write what one wants to remember in the book. Anyone who loses their book after the Forgetting becomes one of the Lost. They are given a new identity but live a life of servitude.

Books are supposed to contain the truth, but not everyone writes the truth-- and Nadia knows because she is the only one who has never forgotten. She believes that they have not been told the truth about the Forgetting and that the true answers lie beyond the city walls. She will need the help of Gray, the handsome young glass blower who is the only one who knows she has been going over the city wall seeking answers. What causes the Forgetting and can it be stopped? Nadia needs to find the answers before the next Forgetting comes and the people of Canaan forget everything-- before Gray forgets her.

While I feel that the story could have flowed better, I really enjoyed learning the secrets of Canaan along with Nadia. There were plenty of unexpected discoveries about the city and the large, white stone walls that surround it. I found the premise of the story intriguing but was left wishing it was a little easier to follow. There are excerpts from Nadia’s books of memories throughout the story that seem to be somewhat random in their placement. It tended to throw me off a little as I read. The characters were well developed and grabbed my attention quickly. I found myself wondering if I would always write the truth in my book or if I would leave out the things that brought me pain, disappointment, or shame. Would I let the Forgetting give me a new start or would I seek the truth and try to put an end to it?

Overall, it was a good book.  I would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the Hunger Games. While it lacked the intensity of the Hunger Games, there is a similar feel to the characters.  

Friday, January 27, 2017

Boar Island by Nevada Barr

Reviewed by Kristin

Ever since I began reading Nevada Barr’s mysteries set in U.S. national parks, I’ve been hoping that she would write one based in Acadia National Park.  It’s been twenty-three years since I’ve been there, but I opened Boar Island eagerly.  Set mainly on the rocky islands off the coast of Maine, this latest entry in the Anna Pigeon series kept me turning the pages.

The action begins in Colorado where Anna’s young friend Elizabeth has become the victim of a vicious cyber bully.  (Elizabeth and her paraplegic mother Heath were recently seen in an another book:  Destroyer Angel.)  Deciding that the best way to deal with the bully is to remove Elizabeth from the situation, Heath and her Aunt Gwen decide that they will go along to Acadia as Anna is about to take a three week position as acting chief ranger.  The park itself presents physical challenges, especially for Heath using her motorized wheelchair that she has dubbed “Robo-butt” or her prototype mechanical skeleton support nicknamed “Dem Bones”.

Unfortunately, even with parental limitations on electronic devices, Elizabeth’s cyber stalker still manages to contact her.  Could it be possible that someone followed them from Colorado to Maine in order to torment Elizabeth?  Determining jurisdiction for internet based crime is always difficult, and Anna finds that local law enforcement agencies are reluctant to take charge of an investigation.

Alternating chapters bring in the story of Denise, an Acadian park ranger who has recently been dumped by Peter, a senior ranger, in favor of the much younger Lily.  Denise tries to hide her jealousy over Peter and Lily’s baby, Olivia, but she yearns for a child of her own.  Denise soon finds a long lost family member who sets her upon a journey of self-discovery and reinvention.

Although I enjoyed the picturesque Maine setting of the book, Acadia National Park wasn’t as big of a presence as other parks in earlier books.  The waves crashing into Thunder Hole are mentioned briefly, but more descriptions of the sunrise on top of Cadillac Mountain, the pink granite of Otter cliffs, or even the variety of hiking trails would have painted a more scenic picture of the park.  Since I have visited Acadia, I am sure that I was filling in some of the gaps with my own memories.  Other readers might not be so fortunate, and I know the thrill of visiting other parks vicariously through Barr’s descriptions in other books in the series.

The two storylines eventually come together as Barr deftly weaves the threads bringing relationships and hidden actions to light.  One particular character begins to show possible signs of mental instability, and Barr keeps the reader guessing for a while—does this character have a legitimate complaint against others or is it all in their mind?  Another character acts in a very irrational manner as well, taking drastic actions to defend their family against a perceived threat.  Parts of the mysteries are known to the reader, but not revealed to Anna and her cohorts.  Other parts are kept a mystery until the very end.  Full of suspense, family and nature, fans of Anna Pigeon should enjoy this latest trek to the far northeastern United States.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Nevermore: Letters from the Trenches, Trials of the Earth, Sidney Chambers, The Secret War, Incognito

Reported by Ambrea

This week, Nevermore decided to get historical, kicking things off with Letters from the Trenches:  The First World War by Those Who Were There by Jacqueline Wadsworth.  Described as fascinating and insightful, Letters from the Trenches is not a traditional history; rather, it compiles hundreds of letters penned by different men who served in the war—men who only have their letters to survive them.  Our Nevermore reader was thrilled with her book, saying it was an excellent investigation into the history of World War I and, more importantly, to shine a light on the human element of such a brutal conflict.  She said she was particularly interested in Wadsworth’s research into the soldier’s letters, uncovering whatever happened to the men who survived on the front line and relating their stories before and after the war that forever changed the world.

Next, Nevermore explored a little further into the past, taking a look at the pioneering days of the American South from deep in the Mississippi swamps to settlements on the Arkansas frontier with Trials of the Earth.  Penned by Mary Mann Hamilton, Trials of the Earth is, according to the book jacket, the “only known first-person account of one woman’s struggles and triumphs taming the Mississippi Delta.”  In her memoir, Mary Hamilton describes her harrowing life as she, along with her husband, pushed at the boundaries of the frontier.  Our reader said Hamilton’s memoir was “so very good,” beautifully written and incredibly precise.  She highly recommended it to her fellow readers, noting that it was so easy to be “swept along by it” as Mary recounted her time at the fringes of American civilization.

Nevermore also dived right into a historical mystery by James Runcie, his second installment in the Grantchester Mysteries:  Sidney Chambers and the Perils of the Night.  Sidney Chambers, a full-time priest and part-time detective, is called to investigate a number of new mysteries, including the poisoning of Zafar Ali and the unexpected fall of a Cambridge don from the roof of King’s College Chapel.  Richly detailed and woven with hints of humor, Sidney Chambers and the Perils of the Night combines the best of mystery and romance as Sidney makes his way through the 1950s Cambridge campus and continues to deal with his own spiritual struggles.  Our reader said she enjoyed reading Runcie’s novel, and she enjoyed discussing differences between the Grantchester mysteries series and the Grantchester television series appearing on PBS.  Although she noted several critical differences between the book series and the television show, she highly recommended both to her fellow Nevermore members as having merits that made them equally likable.

Proceeding in the historical vein, Nevermore took a good long look at World War II in The Secret War:  Spies, Ciphers, and Guerillas by Max Hastings.  Hastings, one of Britain’s senior historians of World War II, has written more than a dozen books on the subject—including his latest on some of the more secretive aspects of war.  In his book, Hastings puts a magnifying glass to many of World War II’s harshest battles—and some of its lesser known ones—and uncovers many of the leading spies, cryptologists, and guerilla fighters who helped to turn the tides of war.  Our reader said he greatly enjoyed The Secret War, saying, “[Hastings] knows his stuff, and his book is a thorough account of a matter that has received less attention than it deserves.  But modern nations do not like to reveal their secrets, and it takes an experienced scholar of Hastings caliber to ferret out the whole story,” which he does admirably.  Our reader highly recommended it to his fellow readers, noting, “If you like cloak and dagger stories, The Secret War will appeal to you.”

Last (but certainly not least), Nevermore had a long discussion about Incognito:  The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman.  Like Mary Roach, Eagleman attempts to answer questions readers never even knew they had, like:
“Why can your foot move halfway to the brake pedal before you become consciously aware of danger ahead?  Why do you hear your name being mentioned in a conversation that you didn’t think you were listening to?  What do Ulysses and the credit crunch have in common?  Why did Thomas Edison electrocute an elephant in 1916?  Why are people whose names begin with J more likely to marry other people whose name begins with J?  Why is it so difficult to keep a secret?  And how is it possible to get angry at yourself—who, exactly, is mad at whom?”
Eagleman attempts to answer these questions and more in his book, which our readers were excited to discuss.  Although our reader said she would sometimes get bogged down by the sheer weight of information provided in Incognito, she found Eagleman’s book fascinating.  In between all the research, she found little nuggets of stories that were useful and insightful or just plain fascinating.  After sharing a lengthy discussion of the conscious mind versus the brain and the soul, Incognito was quickly snapped up by another reader who was eager to learn more about the neural pathways of the mind

Monday, January 23, 2017

How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather

Reviewed by Rita

15 year old Samantha “Sam” Mather is cursed. Her father is in a coma and her stepmother tells her that mounting medical bills make it necessary to sell their New York home and move into her deceased grandmother’s house in Salem, Massachusetts. This is when things really get bad. Sam is starting a new school in a new city and everyone hates her as soon as they hear the name Mather. 

Sam is descended from Cotton Mather who was instrumental in starting the Salem witch trials and that doesn’t sit well with the Descendants whose ancestors were hanged during the trails. As soon as she gets to town, bad things start happening to those around her.  In an effort to make a good impression she takes pastries to her homeroom class, but everyone that eats them gets sick -- except for Sam. When she attends a party with kids from school, everyone gets a terrible rash -- except for Sam. It doesn’t take long for suspicion to fall upon her.

Sam soon finds out that this curse has affected Salem for 300 years, but only when a descendant from each family involved in the witch trials is present in town. Her arrival completes the requirement triggering the curse and when people start to die, Sam becomes determined to find a way to stop the curse before it takes her father. In order to stop the curse she must first find the source and that will require her to work with the Descendants, the very girls who want to get rid of her.

I thoroughly enjoyed this young adult novel. The characters were interesting and the story moved at a good pace. Author Adriana Mather is a twelfth generation descendant of Cotton Mather and spent time in Salem researching her family history for this novel. The book touches on just enough facts regarding the Salem witch trials to develop the story without bogging it down with a history lesson. However, it has compelled to me to further research the witch trials on my own as it has been a LONG time since my last history class. 

I believe How to Hang a Witch will appeal to a much wider audience than just young adults. It has mystery, action, conflicted love, and a touch of the supernatural.  I found it engrossing and entertaining with a surprise ending that has me hoping for future books about young Sam Mather.  

Friday, January 20, 2017

Time’s Up by Janey Mack

Reviewed by Kristin
Move over Stephanie Plum, there’s a fresh new character in town and she’s got a ticket to write.
Maisie McGrane is from a large Irish family full of Chicago cops.  All her life she has planned to join their ranks, but suddenly she learns that she has failed the psych exam for having an overwhelming need to be liked, and thus will be summarily dismissed from the police academy.  Maisie’s first thought is that this can’t be happening.  All the McGranes are either cops or lawyers.  So what’s next for Maisie?
Appeal the academy’s decision?
Apply to law school?
Become a meter maid?
Soon, Maisie has put on the neon green vest and hit the streets.  Training with Traffic Enforcement Agent Letitia Jackson, Maisie encounters the disgruntled public who are just as likely to throw rotten milkshakes on her head as to beg for mercy when she is about to place an AutoCITE ticket on their windshield.  Being a meter maid is not for the thin-skinned.  No matter what that psych exam said, Maisie is determined to succeed.  Dealing with high level Chicago political intrigue, Maisie manages to navigate her way through the streets of the city in a 3-wheeled “Interceptor” cart issuing tickets and putting the boot on vehicles with multiple violations.
Full of strong and sometimes zany characters, this promising new series has more than a few similarities to Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books.  First off, Maisie has taken on a new job for which she is not exactly suited.  Her family is tight knit and definitely in Maisie’s business, like it or not.  Sidekick/supervisor Letitia is overflowing with personality and surely would be stopping at Cluck-in-a-Bucket if only she were in Trenton instead of Chicago.  A bit of a love triangle is set up in this first book of the series as well, although Maisie seems to favor the mysterious bad/good guy Hank Bannon rather than the family approved cop Lee Sharpe.
This first installment in the series has begun with a bang and seems to promise even more depth and development in future publications.  Next in the series are Choked Up and Shoot ‘em Up.  I recommend Time’s Up enthusiastically, and look forward to getting to know Maisie, her family, her co-workers, and her love interest(s) as the series continues.