Tuesday, January 30, 2018

January 3.0

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
Fantastical, mesmerizing, gorgeous...that is the only way to describe this beautiful new book by debut author, Melissa Albert. A brilliant mix of fairy tales and fantasy, it brings to mind the darkness of the real Grimm's tales, painting forests of reaching arms, villains with black cold eyes, and a spinner who holds characters captive in their own story. The main character is Alice, always a good choice for a fantasy tale, whose mother yanks them throughout the country, always trying to escape the bad luck that seems to follow them. However, after receiving a letter that Alice's grandmother, a famous recluse who wrote a book which has a serious cult following, has died means the darkness that follows them has receded into the past. So Alice goes to school, lives in New York with her mother and a new husband, and is a normal teenage girl. Until that is, the stories return to invade Alice's life once again. This author shows her chops the first time out with compelling characters, a complex plot line, and stunning writing. Fingers crossed for a sequel! (and seriously, look at the cover - it is stunning!)

Into the Black Nowhere (Unsub #2by Meg Gardiner

Quite rarely do I give 5 stars to a police/murder mystery; it has to be incredibly well-written with complex and well-developed characters, as well as a thoughtful, realistic yet filled-with-shockers plot line. Meg Gardiner's second book in her Unsub series hits all these criteria - it is just outstanding! Question is...do you have to read the first book, titled Unsub? Nope - Into the Black Nowhere can absolutely stand alone (but the first book is awfully good so why not?!) This second book reintroduces the reader to Caitlin Hendrix, recently trained at the BAU at Quantico after leaving the SFPD and her ATF boyfriend. Loosely based on Ted Bundy, Caitlin and her team encounter a slick, intelligent, well-to-do serial killer who holds the Austin area of Texas in fear. As the team uncovers more victims and the murderer unravels, it becomes apparent that the psychological genius of the killer is going to lead both the team, the community, and we, the reader, on the chase of a lifetime. I ferociously turned pages, with twists upon turns upon surprises, all the way until the end. This is what I call a "humdinger" of a book. If you like Mind Hunters on Netflix, the Jo Nesbo series with Harry Hole, Criminal Minds on CBS, this book is definitely for you.

The Night Child by Anna Quinn
Not for the fainthearted reader, but what a powerful, tragic, heart-wrenching, yet hopeful story written by a Pacific Northwest writer. Anna Quinn knows Seattle and places her story in a realistic time back in the 1990's, when the trauma of sexual abuse was starting to make it more and more into the public eye. As a former public school teacher myself, I was impressed with her depth of knowledge of both setting and career. Quinn's main character, Nora, is fully developed as a high school teacher who sees for herself the outcome of students' home lives and the impact on their school lives. Nora, however, also has demons of her own as her young daughter is soon to turn six. As the author slowly and insidiously pulls secrets out of Nora, through visits with her therapists, moments with students, and an unhappy marital life, the true tragedy unfolds. This is a powerful tale of mental illness, childhood trauma, and abusive parenting that will rivet you, make you turn pages, cry a few tears, and cheer for the heroes found in the end. I look forward to Quinn's next book after this powerful debut.

Tarnished City by Vic James
This is the second book of James' powerful new YA fantasy series that began with the Gilded Cage back in the winter of 2017. The premise is unique and different. Yes, it has magic but it also has some alternative history, such as the Confederate United States is separate from the Union United States. Slavery of a different nature, that of the commoner who has no 'Skill' (ie magic) vs. the Equals who are the rich elite class with some fairly serious magical talents, most of them used for evil. Each commoner in the UK must donate a decade of their life and do their time as a slave in service of the Equals; this period can be done at any time after reaching the age of ten, thus many families try and do their time together. The Hadley family attempted this in the first book, with obvious negative consequences. Now split up and trying to rescue brother Luke from a diabolical Scottish Equal with some dark and nasty punishment routines, sister Abi joins the resistance and the political fight for the heart of England begins. If you missed the first book, I highly recommend picking it up as you will want to head straight into this second adventure. Need escapism, some magic, some heroes? This book will satisfy your every wish.

Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna

Need a page-turner of a mystery for your next vacation read? Here it is. At first, the plot line might seem a bit ordinary: young mom, whose life choices are not always wise, parks her car at K-Mart to grab a birthday party present, leaves her two young daughters in the car, and yes, upon returning, the girls have vanished. However, thanks to the two main characters, this is not your ordinary thriller. Alice Vega, a bounty hunter and all-around bad-ass, is hired by the wealthy aunt to find the two girls. Vega has a golden reputation, made famous by media attention, in bringing home missing kids. Once she arrives in the small Pennsylvania town, Vega needs a partner and a way in to the police department information. Enter Max Caplan (aka Cap), a former policeman who resigned in disgrace, a single father of a unique teenager, and a private detective currently involved in spying on cheating spouses. Cap sees Vega's wily tricks that get her through impossible situationsand understands the demons that drives her; Vega sees the heart of gold under Cap's gruff exterior and his keen instinct for bad guys. It is an entertaining race with these two to find these girls as they meet some unique characters both inside and outside the law.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
Having read numerous stories of the Holocaust over my lifetime, I had taken a break for the past year or so; however, with Holocaust Remembrance Day and the description of this book, I decided it was time to explore once more a devastating and eternally shocking time in our recent history. Based on a true story, Heather Morris takes the story of Lale and Gita and turns it in an inspiring and hopeful story in the midst of unimaginable human suffering. The story begins with Lale, a young Slovakian man who has chosen to be the healthy Jewish male to be sent to from his family to 'work' for the Germans, arriving at Auschwitz in 1942. Quickly, Lale is trained to be the tattooist, earning extra rations and a room of his own. Torn by his seeming complicity with the SS, Lale becomes a savior to many other prisoners, displaying the Talmudic proverb that he who saves one, saves the world. In the midst of this horrible time, he meets Gita and falls in love. This is a remarkable tale of young love in the most deadly time. The beauty of this book is the ability to provide hope and inspiration through these two characters, as well as the friends they make in the camp. After reading voraciously for two days, I closed the final page not with tears, but with great hope for humanity and our ability to care for others through the darkest time.

The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson
Written by a local author who grew up in my small, college PNW town, this is an exciting new entry in the world of dystopic novels. Set somewhere in a future that seems shockingly too real for me after all the posturing with nuclear weapons and North Korea in 2017, a family lives off the grid that no longer exists out in the cold of the Canadian Yukon. The family unit consists of mom, brother, uncle, foster son, and Lynn, a young girl who is intriguing, complicated, smart, courageous, and all-together human. When Jax, a young man from the 'real world' becomes a temporary tribe member, he brings reality back to this family unit in a forceful and frightening way. This book does a solid job of creating a new and scary world, peopling it with intriguing characters and heart-thumping plot twists that will leave one turning pages frantically. While the end is satisfying, it leaves the obvious door open to the rest of the series that is sure to come. My one hope is that in future books Lynn won't be needing the male characters to save her, that she will have learned to look into her own interior and save herself; then we will have a fully developed and evolved hero to cheer. (Author Tyrell Johnson will be at our local Village Books sometime in March so check the calendar)

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