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A Binocular Vision of History

The Company of the Dead The improbable history of the sinking of the Titanic is legendary. The “unsinkable” ship’s maiden voyage was favored with the advantages of an experienced captain, a capable crew, and peerlessly clear weather. She had every probability of reaching her destination unscathed. Yet despite the clear night and the watchful lookout, a looming, unseen colossus was destined to sink her. Of course, even the smallest twist in the kaleidoscope may produce chaos. It is on this premise, embodied by the mysterious, anachronistic presence of a pair of 21st century night vision binoculars, that author David Kowalski launches his epic exploration of “what if?” What if the Titanic hadn’t struck the iceberg? Or, what if she had, but on a different side? Who lives that night, who dies and how - these subtle changes will reshape history as we know it in breathtakingly plausible ways. That is, unless one man’s profound sacrifice in 2012 can reset the Titanic on its original date with destiny.

 

At just under 750 narrative pages, The Company of the Dead is a tome to be sure, yet not a page in its composition is superfluous to its intricately-woven plot and character development. Throughout the story, Kowalski demonstrates compulsive attention to historical detail and lyrical language. These elements serve to draw the reader ever further into the author’s ambitious yet startlingly realistic vision of a world reshaped and on the edge of the apocalypse.

 

The Company of the Dead is broadly recommended for readers of any genre who are prepared to invest time in an absorbing adventure. Technically a secret rather than an alternate history, The Company of the Dead nevertheless plays on the same “what if?” element characteristic of so many alternate history titles. It will therefore strike a particular chord with devotees of alternate history and historical fiction. Readers beguiled by alternate histories involving familiar historic figures and locations may also enjoy Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker series as well as a smorgasbord of series and standalone titles by Harry Turtledove.

Meghan

 
 

Loving the First Scoundrel

Loving the First Scoundrel

posted by:
April 18, 2012 - 11:02am

A Rogue by Any Other Name Bestselling Regency romance author Sarah MacLean’s new Rules of Scoundrels quartet will follow the four charming rogues who own the Fallen Angel gambling club.  Each has fallen from society after a scandal but will find love strong enough to redeem him.  The series is off to a great start with A Rogue by Any Other Name.

 

MacLean’s first scoundrel is the Marquess of Bourne who gambled away his inheritance when he was 19 years old.  The scandal left him penniless and exiled from society, but he has built a new life and fortune for himself as one of the owners of the most notorious gambling hell in London.  The only thing that he hasn’t regained is Falconwell, his ancestral estate.  When he finds that Falconwell is now part of the dowry of his childhood neighbor Penelope Marbury, Bourne traps her into marrying him.  Penelope has always loved her childhood friend Michael (now Bourne) but the man she has married bears little resemblance to him.  Bourne doesn’t expect marriage to change his life, but Penelope is not at all the woman Bourne expected her to be.  In the end, he has to choose between the revenge that he always wanted and the life he never knew that he could have.

 

MacLean has an extraordinary ability to create characters who readers love, and she injects a modern sense of humor into her historical setting.  Old letters between Penelope and Bourne open each chapter, giving their relationship history and depth.  The epilogue of A Rogue by Any Other Name has a tease of the next novel, and it will definitely leave readers wanting more. Readers new to Sarah MacLean should also try her Love by Numbers series, where Penelope makes her first appearance.   

Beth

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Get to know Detective Alex Morrow

Get to know Detective Alex Morrow

posted by:
April 18, 2012 - 10:59am

The End of the Wasp Season The End of the Wasp Season is the latest novel by Denise Mina and the second featuring Detective Inspector Alex Morrow. Morrow was introduced in the novel Still Midnight, in which she was trying to solve an attack on a family while wrestling demons of her own. In the current novel, Morrow is heavily pregnant with twins and trying to unravel the mysterious death of a woman who was thrown down a flight of stairs and stomped on. As in the previous novel, Morrow is also dealing with sexism within the police bureau and trying to ensure that male officers treat the victim with respect.

 

Morrow is a complex character. She is methodical, organized, and truly desires justice for the victims. She finds herself in an uncomfortable situation when she runs into an old school friend named Kay whose previous employment was caring for the victim’s mother. Morrow wants to reconnect with her, but realizes that Kay and members of her family may be suspects in the crime. Kay is still living in semi-poverty and has a strong mistrust for the police. Morrow represents all the things that Kay dislikes.

 

The novel is set in Glasgow, Scotland and Mina really creates a strong city atmosphere.  For a reader that prefers audio editions, the work is read by Jane MacFarlane who has a delightful Glaswegian accent that lends to the enjoyment of hearing the novel. Mina describes police procedures in realistic detail, from evidence collection to suspect interrogation. But the greatest strength in her novels is her insight into the psychology of the main characters. The story is as much about those who commit the crime as those who solve them. The reader gets caught up in the story and it becomes impossible to stop reading. Both Still Midnight and The End of the Wasp Season are wonderful novels and Detective Alex Morrow is a character every reader should discover.

Doug

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An Unconventional Page-turner

An Unconventional Page-turner

posted by:
April 18, 2012 - 10:54am

HeftHeft by Liz Moore is a confessional novel about loneliness, human fragility and hope. From the very beginning, Arthur Opp confides, “the first thing you must know about me is that I am colossally fat.” By his estimation, he probably weighs between 500-600 pounds and has not left his home in Brooklyn since September 11, 2001.  He has no contact with family or friends. If he needs anything from the outside world, he simply orders it online.

 

Out of the blue, former student Charlene calls Arthur to find out if he might consider tutoring her teenage son, Kel. Although Charlene was Arthur’s student over twenty years ago, he still thinks of her often. For him, Charlene represents a life that might have been.  Meanwhile, Charlene is a struggling single mom raising her son in Yonkers. Wanting more for Kel, she has managed to get him into a better school in an affluent neighborhood nearby by working at the school as a secretary. Kel is a gifted athlete and is interested in pursuing a career in baseball. Charlene is concerned that he’s more interested in sports than in his academic future. A firm believer in higher education, she hopes Arthur Opp may be able to help. Readers will stay up way too late, temporarily neglect chores and relationships just to see how this story unfolds.

Heft is a heartfelt novel that never crosses into sappy sentimentalism. With Moore’s keen attention to detail, deeply compelling story and all too human characters, Heft is destined to land on many of the “Best Of” lists this year. Adult and teen readers who enjoy coming of age stories should not miss out on this lovely book.

 

 

 

Zeke

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The Universe Takes Care of All its Birds

WonderTen-year-old August Pullman (Auggie to family and friends) sees himself as a pretty ordinary kid. Or at least, a pretty ordinary kid with a most extraordinary face. You see, August’s face is the result of a most improbable genetic lottery, a one-in-a-million ticket called mandibulofacial dysostosis which, despite countless corrective surgeries, has gifted August with the kind of face that causes children to run screaming and even the kindest adults to avert their eyes.

 

However ordinary August might feel on the inside, at first – and second – glance the world has always seen a freak, or at best, a gut-wrenchingly pitiable boy. As his sister’s childhood friend Miranda puts it, “…the universe was not kind to Auggie Pullman.” Yet, as the story unfolds over his first year of middle school, August’s teachers and his classmates will learn that August’s face really is the least extraordinary thing about him.

 

First time author R.J. Palacio brings August and the other characters of Wonder to life with tremendous poignancy, realism and a supersized measure of practical humor. The perspectives of many characters are sampled and distilled into a comprehensive experience of what it means to be different, to love (and sometimes resent) someone who is different, and what extraordinary beauty can be seen beyond the peephole. Palacio’s characters and situations are deftly constructed, startlingly realistic, and likely to resonate with anyone who’s ever been there, whether as the awkward student on the first day of middle school, the parent or sibling of a child whom the world sees as different, or the “normal” kids and adults who must face their own internal concoction of fear, politeness, meanness, and most importantly, kindness when confronted with someone who is different.

 

Ultimately, this is more than a story about fitting in and more than a caution against judging a book by its cover – though Wonder certainly encompasses both of these messages. It’s a story about the beautiful, the ordinary, and the unseen ways in which an unkind universe still takes care of all its birds.

Meghan

 
 

The Ripper Is Back!

The Ripper Is Back!

posted by:
April 18, 2012 - 10:49am

 The Name of the Star The Name of The Star by Maureen Johnson is an amazingly fun and frightening story you won’t want to miss.  The story revolves around Rory Deveaux, an 18-year-old girl from Louisiana who has the opportunity to attend a boarding school in London for her senior year.  The transition proves challenging as we witness her try to make friends, struggle with difficult classes, and much to Rory’s dismay, learn to play field hockey. However, even more distressing are the brutal murders which are taking place in close proximity to her school. Young women are being killed in the same manner and on the same dates as the Jack the Ripper murders a hundred years before. Rippermania has taken over the city as everyone anxiously awaits the next victim to be discovered.

 

It turns out that Rory is the only witness to any of the crimes and this fact puts her in the sights of the killer. The story takes a decidedly paranormal twist as the Shades, a secretive police force, become involved in the case.  Their specialty is finding and dealing with ghosts.  They are determined to protect Rory and stop the new Ripper before he strikes again. This novel is a fantastic read that teens and adults alike will enjoy. You won’t want the story to end and the great news is it doesn’t have to!  This is the first novel in a series called The Shades of London.

 

Interested in polishing up on your Ripperology? Check out Jack the Ripper and the Case for Scotland Yard’s Prime Suspect by Robert House or Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper: Case Closed by Patricia Cornwell, both available at your library.  Amaze friends with sordid facts regarding this legendary unsolved mystery.

Jeanne

 
 

Through the Eyes of a Child

Through the Eyes of a Child

posted by:
April 18, 2012 - 10:47am

OnceThenOnce there was a young Jewish boy named Felix living in Nazi occupied Poland. He was naïve as to why his parents left him at a Catholic orphanage. Felix got tired of waiting for them to come back for him so he chose to leave the safety of the nuns and go back home. This poignant story by Morris Gleitzman shows the Holocaust through the innocent eyes of a child.  The 10-year-old cannot understand the things he witnesses.  Why are people found shot outside a farmhouse? Why are there strangers living in his house? The reader follows his conjectures and rationalizations until he very slowly comes to the realization that the Jews are being eliminated and his parents are gone. 

 

Then he befriends a 6-year-old girl named Zelda. They escape a train bound for a concentration camp and spend every moment trying to hide from the Nazis.  Felix makes up stories to distract Zelda from hunger and fear. The author Richmal Crompton is his hero, and he prays to her when he is scared. The children are taken in by a kind woman.  She bleaches their hair and gets them fake documentation so they can hide in plain sight, but they all live in constant fear of discovery. Felix witnesses unspeakable cruelty and hatred and although he feels anger, makes a conscious choice not to become like the Nazis.   

 

These novels are historical fiction at its best. Thoroughly researched and simply presented with the authentic voice of a child.  It is one thing to learn the facts of the Holocaust and an entirely different matter to witness them from a child’s perspective.

Jeanne

 
 

Windows to the Soul

Windows to the Soul

posted by:
April 18, 2012 - 10:44am

SlideThe eyes are often said to be the windows to the soul, but what if you could be on the inside looking out through those windows? And what if that person is a killer?

 

Slide by Jill Hathaway is named for the special “ability” that teenager Sylvia (Vee) possesses…when she is tired she can slide into someone else’s body if she touches something that they have touched. The trouble is that she cannot control it, so she spends much of her time trying not to touch things. This gets her wrongly labeled as OCD, narcoleptic, and just plain crazy. She hides the truth from her family (which is not difficult since her mother is dead, her father is a workaholic surgeon and her sister is a popular cheerleader who looks down on the rest of the school.) She also hides it from her best friend Rollins, who might be sympathetic but he has his own secrets to hide. But when Vee slides one night and finds herself standing over the dead body of her sister’s best friend with a bloody knife in her hand, she knows she has to gain control of her sliding and try to discover who the killer is.

 

Slide is a fast-paced mystery for those readers who like just a hint of the supernatural. Vee is a strong heroine who is remarkably well-grounded despite the trauma in her young life. Slide has received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and is Hathaway’s first novel.

 

 

 

 

Sam

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Buffy vs. Angels?

Buffy vs. Angels?

posted by:
April 18, 2012 - 10:40am

EmbraceEmbrace by Jessica Shirvington is an exciting new novel for older teens that will also appeal to adults who read paranormal romance. This is the first book in a series that is already very popular in Shirvington’s native Australia.

 

When Violet Eden turns 17, she receives a cryptic letter from her deceased mother that says that Violet will have to choose. Soon, Violet learns about a secret that will change her life forever.  She is a member of the Grigori, a race of part-human, part-angel warriors whose job is to hunt exiled angels who seek vengeance on Earth. Violet will have to choose—will she embrace and accept her life as a Grigori or turn her back on it?

 

Violet is also in the middle of a love triangle. Her friend and training partner, Lincoln, is her Grigori partner. He has known what she is since he met her, and Violet feels betrayed that he has kept the secret from her.  Soon after learning about her role as a Grigori, she also meets Phoenix, an exiled angel who she finds intriguing. Phoenix is honest about who and what he is, and it’s clear that there’s much more to Phoenix than meets the eye. Can Violet really trust him?

 

Embrace is engaging and filled with romance, intrigue, and action.  Violet is a tough heroine--think Buffy the Vampire Slayer taking on evil angels! The angel mythology in the story is unusual enough to engage the reader.

Beth

 
 

Take a Journey to Wonderful!

The Mighty Miss MaloneA Nation's HopeChristopher Paul Curtis delivers again with a Depression-era historical fiction in The Mighty Miss Malone.  Readers will delight in getting to know the mighty 12 year old Deza Malone (a character in Curtis’ Newbery winner Bud, Not Buddy) and her family.  Brother Jimmie is small but has a beautiful singing voice, and Mom and Dad just want the best for their kids.  The family is a tight unit and even has a motto:  “a family on a journey to a place called Wonderful.”  Deza is smart and spunky and even while her family is struggling with unemployment and illness, she has an optimistic outlook and a strong sense of self and her future.  The family’s strong bond is tested when Mr. Malone seeks work in Flint, Michigan. But Deza, Jimmie and their mother decide to follow him and travel with him on his journey. There are hardships, but this story is filled with humor, a strong sense of history and place, and truly wonderful characters.  Readers wanting more should check out the reading guide provided by Random House.

 

One of the frames Curtis uses to share Deza’s story is the boxing match of 1936 which saw German Max Schmeling face off against the Brown Bomber, Joe Louis. This match took on great significance because of Adolf Hitler’s increasingly powerful Nazi Germany. All Americans, and in particular African-Americans, pinned great hope for their future in this boxing ring. When Louis lost, African-Americans’ spirits sank even lower as they grappled with the Depression. In 1938, the two met in a rematch in Yankee Stadium in front of 80,000 fans, and Louis was victorious. The win helped boost morale across the country. Matt de la Peña shares the story of the second match in A Nation’s Hope: the Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis.  Kadir Nelson’s remarkable illustrations highlight this story which was a watershed cultural event. Of special note to locals – Baltimore Colts’ legend Artie Donovan’s father was the referee during this match!

Maureen