Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Shadow Lantern by Teresa Flavin

Published by Candlewick Press (July 2014) Templar

I was excited to receive this book for review, but what I didn't realize at the time was that it is not really a stand-alone but rather the final installment in a series. That said, I did enjoy the book and fairly quickly adjusted myself to what may have gone before. In fact, I hope to purchase the two previous books. This series by Teresa Flavin, judging from this book, is a fascinating journey of magic and time travel that I'm sure juvenile readers will enjoy as I did.

There is some confusion in trying to read this single book without knowing exactly what went on before, although there are many references in this book to the previous ones, enough possibly to keep the momentum flowing from one book to another. Enough to clue the reader in to what went before, and how the situation came to be in this book. Not to say too much about what happened previously, there is plenty of excitement and especially so when it comes to Hallowe'en night and the school community party.

The main characters in the present are Sunni, Blaise, Maddy and Dean. Among the adults are the parents and Mr. Bell, who is mainly in charge of the party, Angus who is Mr. Bell's cousin and a former art forger, and the mysterious Munroe, who claims to capture spirits on film and is giving a performance of an magical projecting lantern, a strange shadow lantern. From the past, we have Fausto Corvo in 1582, a purported magician and artist who combines the two, Lady Ishbel once alive and now a spirit in the present and Soranzo who would like to get his hands on Corvo's paintings.

Enigma Night is being planned for Hallowe'en night at Blackhope Tower, the place where so much has (and will) happen. Sunni and Blaise have disappeared from that tower in the past and it has a great deal to do with a Corvo painting that is housed there. Why was there a labyrinth in the tower room, why did skeletons pop up on it from thin air, why and how did it disappear? Munro is setting up a display and talks about his wonderful find, the antique and magical Oculus, apparently originally commissioned by Corvo. Is it possible that Corvo's secrets are trapped inside? Why was there a labyrinth in the tower room, why did skeletons pop up on it from thin air, why and how did it disappear? The lamp is very unusual, but what is more unusual is what it does, something Sunni and Blaise will discover to their shock and amazement. What has happened to Mr. Bell, the art teacher who is mainly in charge of the party? He has disappeared. What causes the tower to begin to self-destruct? This book is full of fun, magic, adventure, and secret codes, perfect entertainment for the juvenile set. I enjoyed it to the point that I will probably obtain the other two books in the series, The Blackhope Enigma and The Crimson Shard.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Book Clubbed (a Booktown Mystery) by Lorna Barrett

 Published by Berkley Prime Crime

Death by books - a case full of murder.
A unique voice among cozy authors, capable of making us want more with every book, Lorna Barrett has returned to Booktown with this latest outing, Book 8 of the series. Lorna has given us many unusual ways for a killer to kill, and this book is no exception.

Angelica has taken over the Chamber of Commerce in a vote against former Chamber president Bob Kelly. But where is he? For reasons unknown, he has disappeared...or has he? The receptionist for the Chamber is not a person anyone would really attempt to make a friend. She is downright nasty...could that be the reason for her literal downfall? A tremendous crash brings Angelica and sister Tricia running and once again Tricia has found a body. No wonder she is known as the 'town jinx' and often assumed to be the suspect! But Tricia has many more things to confuse her and take up her time. With an ex-husband and ex-boyfriend trying to get back in favor with her, she also is, naturally, sleuthing to clear her name and solve the murder along with sister Angelica. Why was Betsy Dittmeyer so nasty? What secret has she harbored that sister Joelle needs to know? What is she hiding and who didn't want anyone to find out?

Meanwhile, it appears there is a new boon coming...a virtual explosion of future residents in the picture, along with Angelica's determination to expand the coverage of the Chamber of Commerce there should be a re-awakening of the small town and Tricia is privy to some of the newcomers already on the way, a secret that many people seem to know.

With this latest book, aside from the secrets, mysteries, murder and possible attempted murder, the author has left some tantalizing bits of what may be to come in a future book and indeed I, for one, am hoping that Booktown will survive it's latest crisis. Recipes are included in the book.
-Review based on Advance Reading Copy (ARC)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Defy the Night - a Novel by Heather Munn and Lydia Munn

Published by Kergel Publications

An absolutely wonderful book of hope and horror in early WWII

As a Canadian child born in 1940, this book had special meaning to me, not as a child participant, but as one whose father was at war while I was young, my brother even younger. In fact, whenever my brother was asked where his Daddy was he pointed to a picture on the wall.

I found this book more full of life with characters who had endured so little of family life, than many books I've read in the past. It tells the story of the internment camps, later changed to prison camps, in the south of France, of the people, mostly women, who risked their lives to bring children out of the camps to safe homes. France was under the rule of the Vichy Government at this time. Though this is a book of fiction, it is only fictional as to locations and names. The two camps specifically mentioned, Rivesaltes and Gurs are real and can be visited as they are still there and the CIMADE is a real rescue group. The rest is based on real people, real homes, real situations. The internment camps were used to enclose behind strong fences with barbed wire, 'undesirables': refugees from the Spanish Civil War which had just ended, gypsies, and foreign Jews. At this time, French Jews were still free, although many were in the 'Occupied' zone of France. The story covers 1941 and early 1942, a time before the camps became deportation camps from which the internees were sent to the death camps in Germany.

Heather and Lydia Munn have done excellent research and the writing is amazing. I was drawn in so completely I couldn't stop reading. The story begins with young teens in a rationing line-up. Many of their friends, kids who are immigrants from the 'wrong' countries, have already been placed into internment camps. Magali is fifteen and has a very strong will, but a compassionate heart. She and her friend Rosa like to meet the train and happen to note a young woman with four children get off the train and immediately be questioned about why she is in Tanieux. The woman instantly appears to be in command, intimidating the mayor, at the same time asking for directions. This is how the two girls become acquainted with Paquerette as they help her with the suitcases and children. The woman appears to be completely exhausted. They soon learn about her job through CIMADE, a Christian care agency, of rescuing children from the camps.

This story is told in the first person by Magali. She urgently feels she should be involved in bringing the children out, even knowing it is dangerous, that she is probably too young and Paquerette leaves to get more children almost as soon as she arrives. But Paquerette wants to take her to share the load, if her parents will allow it, even if only once.

We follow her story through her thoughts and actions, her horror, devastation and self-deprecation when she places her friend and personal 'Joan of Arc', Paquerette, in mortal danger when she is arrested because of an action by Magali. The characters in this book are strong, compassionate, and selfless. There are some natural character flaws as the teens grow up in such a dangerous and secretive situation wrought with hardship, but as they mature they are as strong and faithful as any adult could be.

The running theme is passion, care, fear, heroism and danger. This goes for all involved: the mothers who give up their children to save them, the secrets that must be kept hidden at all costs, the necessity to be fearful in order to perform well, and the very real danger of being caught. This is a book I would definitely encourage people of most ages to read, from perhaps even 12 to any adult. Written as a Young Adult book, I think that is too limited. Much as I thought I knew, I learned a lot more in this book.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

Published by Scribner Publishing
Review based on Advance Reading Copy (ARC)

Amazing true story, beautiful, horrific, courageous. I couldn't stop reading.
This book will take your breath away. From an abusive household in Alberta, Canada as a child whose escape is found in old National Geographic books, Amanda has no idea how much she is learning about escaping into her mind or how much she will need this in her future. Her future as she sees it is travelling to the many countries she reads about. After she and her brothers move with her mother to a safe house, she starts planning for a future to include this travel.

Amanda Lindhout's memoir is a masterpiece of how the mind can change itself whenever it needs to, how it compensates, over-rides, and deals with the worst kinds of trauma to keep lifeblood flowing. But not to get ahead of myself, first Amanda finds a way to earn enough money to finance a trip to South America. The first of many trips interspersed with coming home to work for more money. As a cocktail waitress, she has advanced through the ranks until she is in a place to earn high tips, enough to make a trip every year. This takes her to countries in South and Central America, Asia and Africa as what she considers a beginning to many more amazing places. The writing in this stage of the book is absolutely wonderful, bringing to mind all those National Geographics, while she backpacks her way through these countries, we feel we are seeing what she is seeing, experiencing what she is experiencing. She makes us feel what she is feeling, and it is consistently beautiful. Some countries like India and Pakistan she visits more than once, but then she begins to expand her horizons: Afghanistan, Iraq, Bangladesh, Ethiopia....

Between trips she turns again to cocktail waitressing, but her need to be somewhere exotic takes over every year, and each trip she gets deeper into dangerous territory. She travels fr a time with a freelance photographer, decides that next trip she wants to show the world to everyone. She becomes a freelance photojournalist, occasionally selling photos and stories to various papers and magazines. She has teamed up with Nigel, another freelance photographer, an Australian. When she decides to head into war zones, she asks him to join her and he semi-reluctantly does. Here the book shifts dramatically. It is 2008 and she has chosen to go into Somalia.

Once in Somalia, known as the 'most dangerous country in the world,' everything changes. Although at first she and Nigel are enjoying the relatively 'safe' city of Mogadishu, on the fourth day she, Nigel, and their drivers are abducted by extremist Muslims. Assuming that all North Americans are rich, their abductors set an impossibly high ransom, which their parents are unable to even come near to paying and their respective governments have no intention of paying. Thus begins their ordeal which will last for 463 days of captivity and isolation. Kept in one room at first, they pretend they want to convert to Islam as a way of staying alive. They are visited sometimes by their captors wanting to learn English, and to teach them the Koran.

As time goes by and their captors' demands are not met, they are moved from house to house, always in the dark. Nigel and Amanda escape from one of the houses and are recaptured. From that point on, the two are completely separated and are shackled; Amanda gets the brunt of punishment as a woman, which includes rape, beatings and torture but she is able to separate herself in her mind from what is happening, a product of her childhood days. She is kept in complete darkness, later she is also bound and gagged. As fever takes over, beatings and rape continue almost daily but she is now living in her mind and guided by a calmness brought on by what seems to be a voice and is able to use different approaches to this separation of her being and her mind. Her mind's eye sees a beautiful house, one that she constructs room by room, floor by floor, until it reaches the sky. A focus for survival.

When finally rescued, neither Amanda nor Nigel are able to comprehend the fact that they are free. They can't comprehend that the food they are given is meant for them, they are fearful it will be taken away or they will be beaten. Both are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and it will take a long time to learn how to handle that. It may never be gone. But Amanda has built that inner strength from her ordeals and although the fear is always with her, she becomes forgiving of many things, including forgiving herself. In the collaboration of writing this book, both Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett must have shared some very difficult and intimate moments, I can't even begin to know how hard this would have been. I commend both for how they went for it no holds barred.

In the Epilogue, we learn that she founds a non-profit organization, the Global Enrichment Foundation to help provide and support education in Somalia, and partnering with other groups, funding scholarships to thirty-six Somalian women attending university, among other projects. This book is gut-wrenchingly real, powerful, and well-written; although the memories and fears of the atrocities are obviously very much a part of her, she has chosen to move on with her life in a positive way.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Divine Sanctuary by Cheryl Kaye Tardif

Published by Imajin Books
Cover design by Ryan Doan

I loved the first two books in the Divine trilogy, I am thrilled to be reading this, the third and final book. It is also with sorrow at leaving behind the characters that Cheryl Kaye Tardif has given us. This book can be read as a standalone but reading the first two will enhance the experience.

The Prologue takes us into the past of Jasmine or Jasi as she prefers, the main character, as a recurring dream, vision or could it be a ghost, always featuring the same girl but this girl ages with time. First seen in Jasi's closet as an abused child, now she appears anywhere, anytime.

Jasi is a member of the PSI branch of the CFBI. This special branch is comprised almost entirely of agents who have psychic abilities of various types. In Jasi's case, she is a Pyro-Psychic, able to feel what a pyromaniac feels as he kills by fire, her skills brought to the fore when she smells smoke. Thus, she has to approach a suspect fire after breathing pure oxygen to keep from contaminating what she is smelling. Her team works as a tightly-knit group, each with their own abilities...except Brandon who is an arson expert and brings his own set of skills to the table.

A heart-wrenching call from a friend sends the team out in search of a missing woman, a well-known reporter who has been out of touch for five days. She had been investigating a story about missing women, and had gone incognito into the 'Sanctuary.' The premise of the Sanctuary is to rescue the homeless and downtrodden, but does it? It seems very much like a cult. The leader appears to sincerely believe what he is doing is helping people. But does he? Is he really the sincere person he seems to be?

Jasi's group has free reign to search the grounds, in fact she and Brandon are even given the use of a cottage in the compound. Granted, many of the women act afraid to talk to them or else flatly refuse to, but the team has no trouble talking to most of them and they can't really find anything. The story revolves around trying to find a foothold to learn about so many missing women who may or may not have been at Sanctuary.

But secrets may be buried deeper than anyone imagines, even the members of Sanctuary. A horrific murder has taken place within the compound, supposedly the result of accident, but Jasi has seen something different, another in the group, Natassia who is a Victim Empath and 'sees' what the victim's last sight was agrees with Jasi. The body in the walk-in furnace, was it really an accident? The shattered bones discovered, are they really from bears hunting other animals?

I love the author's way with expression, description, and energy in her books and this is no exception. These people come alive. Through the PSI group's interaction with their special gifts the search moves outside, their psi-impressions have shown horrible and terrifying deeds very quickly a mind-blowing chase is on. The pace picks up to excruciating time-crunching as the horror of what is really happening begins to be realized.

With all the horror and life-threatening sport going on, with all the sorrow around, there is some good to come out of it all, almost missed but fortunately there is an overwhelmingly stubborn ghost in connection with the also stubborn Jasi, and the end of the trilogy is surprising and satisfying. I cried.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Mysteries Have No Boundaries by Nancy Gettelman

Published by Nightengale Press

Nancy Gettelman's books are written with a distinct style. I always feel that I am in the midst of each of the books I've read, even though they are taking place in different places around the world and the mystery part of each book is very different. In this book, her characters are an enthusiastic group of friends new and old.

Sara and Robb Schneider are from Milwaukee, WI and headed to the International Convention of Brew Pub Owners being held in Victoria, BC. Robb, as owner/operator of a Craft Brewery, has attended some of these conventions before and is looking forward to seeing old friends. After leaving the cold of Wisconsin behind Sara is enchanted with Victoria at first sight. The city is already budding out with flowers everywhere. They've booked into the Empress Hotel, an old and very impressive structure, fit for royalty.

Meeting Robb's friends, Sara feels right at home, and is thrilled to learn that her new friends are planning on taking her sight-seeing. There is one sad fact overshadowing this adventure; their house guest's husband goes missing while sent to the north on a government project working with the Inuits. But she is determined to join the girls in showing Sara around. This plot-line runs as a thread throughout the first portion of the story while Sara continues to be enthralled with the beauty she sees all around. All but one of the wives are warm and friendly, but one seems tense and doesn't always accompany them. Her husband is about to go to the Alberta tar sands for a couple of weeks.

Nancy Gettleman's gift is to take us wherever her character goes, and see what she sees. The reader might as well be sitting right in the car with them, wandering through Butchart Gardens, or dining in the Bengal Room of the Empress. Though I've lived most of my life in Vancouver and often visited Victoria, I learned several new things, which I always enjoy in a book. This book is character driven, and even the location seems to be one of the characters. But wait. This is a murder mystery, not necessarily the victim you might expect, not necessarily the location you might expect and definitely not the method. What is the motive? What is the method? That is the mystery.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave by John Boyne

Published by Doubleday Canada

This book touched a chord with me. Although it takes place in World War I, I felt memories return to me at the same age as Alfie; mine from World War II. John Boyne is spot on with this story and has a fantastic ability to recreate this time period and the horrors that went with it, without losing sight of his youthful audience.  This book is suggested for the 9 to 12 year range, but I believe it would be interesting to a wider range.

Alfie is an only child and has just had his fifth birthday as the story begins. This is his story, but also the story of all London where suddenly all the Dads are off to war, Mothers off to work and/or taking in work and children left alone. Alfie's best friend Kalena Janacek and her father have been sent away to the Isle of Wight to an internment camp, his Dad Georgie is at war and his Dad's best friend Joe as a conscientious objector, a conchie as they call him, is dragged off to jail and badly beaten. All life as he knew it is changed, and changed him with it.

Alfie decides he should do his part, too, so he takes Mr. Janacek's shoeshine kit and starts working at the train station, skipping school three days a week. This is a tale of survival, constant fear and worry, death, innovation and love of family. When letters no longer come from Georgie, Alfie's father, he believes the worst. His mother tries to ease his fears by telling him he can't write because he is on a secret mission but Alfie doesn't believe her.

Chance is a strange thing. While Alfie, now nine, is shining the shoes of a well-dressed man at the station, a wind happens to gust through the station and catch all the papers the man is holding. Alfie rushes to collect them all and chances to see his father listed as a patient at a hospital in England. From this point on the story veers as Alfie plots to see his father. This story is very well-written, compelling and compassionate, as much as a coming of age story. Alfie's complicated plans are admirable if ill-conceived. In a four year period, many things can change, and especially with children, who always seem to grow up too soon, but during war often become grown up through necessity as Alfie did. With love, though, anything is possible.