Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Stars Can Wait by Jay Basu


Fifteen year old Gracian is in love with the stars. He sneaks out of the house at night whenever he can to gaze at the sky. Being in Germany-occupied Poland during World War II, this is pretty dangerous. His brother Pawel forbids him from going out again, so instead Gracian focuses his attention on his brother, who has a mysterious past. While the family struggles to survive during war time, Gracian wants to understand who his brother really is.

Where this short book lacks in plot, it makes up for in writing style. There's not a whole heck of a lot happening in this book, the first half of the book is spent describing the family dynamics and how life is for them in WWII Poland. The second half of the book is about Pawel. But really, most of the book should have been about Pawel since it's the story of how Gracian learns about his brother.

The writing style is very fluid and quite graceful. It's unfortunate that it couldn't be married with a good story line.

First Line: "On an autumn night in 1940, one year into German occupation, in a Polish mining village called Malenkowice within the area known as Upper Silesia, a fifteen-year-old boy named Gracian Sofka sat poised and upright in his bed watching his sleeping brother."


Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Mermaid's Daughter by Ann Claycomb


In a modern day, tragic re-telling of the Little Mermaid, Kathleen comes from a long history of women that have a strong affinity to the sea. Kathleen isn't fully aware of her history, but she does know that her mom walked in to the sea one day when she was a baby with rocks in her pockets. She suffers from the same stabbing pain in her feet and mouth that her mom did and wonders if she is bound to the same fate. Thankfully, she has two things to help her get through this pain: her girlfriend Harry and music.

Harry and Kathleen vacation in Ireland to learn more about Kathleen's family history and find out that the tragedy extends back many generations. To help Kathleen cope with this, Harry and Kathleen's father set out to compose an opera specifically for her. They wonder if they can reverse the curse in Kathleen's family and save her with music.

I really enjoyed the Disney movie The Little Mermaid but had never read Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, so I only know the child-friendly version of this story. We know that the Disney movie is a musical and it suits the story very well that this re-telling also involves music. The most enjoyable part of this book for me was when Katheleen's dad and Harry were creating the opera for her. There was underlying tension of Kathleen possibly getting worse, combined with the stress of creating and producing on an opera.

Unfortunately, compared to Arial, Kathleen was a completely selfish, annoying character. This is called out by herself and Harry throughout the novel, but it doesn't help me connect with her. By the mid point of the book I was rather fed up. I understand that she's in a lot of pain but she treats her partner like garbage when all Harry wants to do is help. I feel like this could have been toned down a bit to allow me to feel more sympathy for Kathleen rather than hating her.

Still, Harry and Kathleen's father more than make up for the dislike I had for Kathleen. That combined with the interesting story make this a worthy read.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for letting me be a part of this tour! If you're interested in picking this book up, you can get it here.

First Line: "'Kathleen,' she says, 'you are going to go mad.'"

About the Author
Ann Claycomb’s fiction has been published in American Short Fiction, Zahir, Fiction Weekly, Brevity, Hot Metal Bridge, The Evansville Review, Title Goes Here, and other publications. She has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has an MFA in fiction from West Virginia University.

Find her on Harper Collins' bio page.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Havoc, in its Third Year by Ronan Benett


It's seventeenth century England and the tensions are rising as religions clash and politicians try to overthrow each other. John Brigge is the town coroner and one of its governors. His wife is about to give birth as he is called to examine a baby that has been suffocated. The finger is quickly pointed at a woman found with the child who looks like she may have recently given birth, but there isn't much evidence beyond that to support her guilt. The other governors are quick to want to hang her but John wants more evidence first. Aware of the fact that his wife needs him, he heads home. However the political powers are churning and it doesn't look like Brigge will benefit from what's happening in town.

The book does a good job of portraying life during this time. It's obvious that quite a bit of research was done and the atmosphere of the book was well set. That said, at times I found the author would write out paragraph long descriptions of things that made no difference. The room where the suffocated child was found has such a description, yet the character only stayed there for about a page, meaning the description was about 33% of the time spent talking about that room. What is the point?

The book is set up as a mystery about who killed the child, but mid-way through the book it seems much less relevant to have this question answered. When that mystery is solved, it doesn't matter much to the reader but instead on how all the warring factions will work with each other and where Brigge ends up.

In the end, this book was rather disappointing.

First Line: "When the women found milk in her breasts, and other secret feminine tokens, Scaife, the constable's man, an archdolt, was dispatched across the windswept moors and icy mountains to fetch Mr John Brigge, coroner of the wapentakes of Agbrigg and Morley."


Friday, March 17, 2017

Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden


Shin Dong-Hyuk was born in a labour camp in North Korea and is one of the very few to have escaped. His story of growing up in the camp and his escape is told by Harden after the two meet in South Korea and the USA for Shin to tell his story.

Shin has deep shame about his actions but he didn't know any better while living in Camp 14. The North Korean guards teach you that you should distrust everyone and report everything. His sense of self and his emotions are completely different from the outside world because of spending his whole life in camp.

The conditions at this camp, not surprisingly, are absolutely deplorable. You would think that we, as a society, would be past this after the Nazis but it's still happening in North Korea. This book brings attention to the problem. The question lingering for me is what can be done about it? This was a short and very interesting read.

First Line: "His first memory is an execution. "


Thursday, March 02, 2017

Whiteout by Ken Follett


It's just before Christmas and a lab technician is discovered dead. He stole an animal from a high level bio facility and ended up getting sick with a deadly disease. Toni is responsible for security of that facility and can't forgive herself. She steps up all levels of security to ensure it won't happen again. However she doesn't know that the owner's son is getting ready to steal the same virus on Christmas eve. A massive snow storm hampers their progress, and that of those trying to find them.

This novel has an interesting setting with a heavy winter storm in Scotland, a rich family's old home, and a high security lab. The tension is based on a real fear, that someone could steal and weaponize a virus for bio terrorism. This isn't a mystery, as all the events are played out by the different characters and you know, for the most part, what's coming. It is a good thriller though as you wonder whether they will get away with it and how they will be caught.

The character at the centre of this book is Toni and a pretty solid character. The only fault that comes from this book is in the completely unnecessary force of romance between her and her boss. There's some pretty inappropriate event between the two of them that had me rolling my eyes. It detracted from the overall story. Thankfully there wasn't too much focused on it, but it was an annoyance.

Not a bad thriller, if you can ignore the inappropriate romance.

First Line: "Two tired men looked at Antonia Gallo with resentment and hostility in their eyes."