Friday, August 23, 2013

The Dark Winter, by David Mark

Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy is a smart and loveably human lead character, haunted by his past and often torn between family and duty. His instincts as a "natural" cop often run him afoul of his boss and coworkers, when he refuses to follow the official plan or instructions, but focuses instead on bringing the right person to justice at all costs. The other characters, be they suspects, witnesses, or cops, all have believable details to bring them to life. The landscape of the setting is almost a character itself, serving to drive the plot in some instances. Although the connection between the murders becomes obvious fairly early on, the true motive and who is behind them remains a point of suspense until almost the very end, revealed through a fast-paced sequence of events. In this debut novel, David Mark has created not only a strong protagonist but a strong case for a continued series of detective fiction.


Those who enjoy Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache series might want to give Detective Sergeant McAvoy a try as well.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Lion in the Lei Shop, by Kaye Starbird

Disclosure: I received a free copy of The Lion in the Lei Shop by Kaye Starbird from Amazon Publishing via GoodReads First Reads.


The Lion in the Lei Shop tells the moving story of a military family whose lives are transformed by the air raids on Pearl Harbor and the events that follow. Of the two viewpoints used to tell the story, the young daughter, Marty, is the more compelling narrator, while her mother April's parts of the tale come across cold and matter-of-fact at times. It is perhaps unnecessary for the mother to repeatedly discredit her daughter's memories of certain events, since the separate narratives of the same incidents clearly establish already that each character remembers things rather differently. Because the two tellings overlap more so than intertwine, the plot does not move along as smoothly as it might, and the second telling does not always add much in terms of perspective. The tiny details, from food to clothes to personal relationships with the loveably quirky cast of minor characters, help make this novel as vividly real as a memoir.


Fans of The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet will also enjoy The Lion in the Lei Shop.

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic, by Emily Croy Barker

Disclosure: I received an ARC of The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker courtesy of Viking Press via GoodReads First Reads.


Although the main character Nora may be a "thinking woman" (by virtue of her advanced studies in literature, at least; not by any deep thoughts she herself expresses), she is certainly not an acting woman. Nora is a passive protagonist who tends to mainly observe and describe the events taking place around her, rather than taking action or becoming overly involved in anything. She waits for her male wizard mentor to rescue her on multiple occasions, even though she constantly complains about women not being treated as equals in the magical realm to which she has been transported. She does little to attempt to find her way back to her own world, and finds trivial ways to pass her time until an opportunity materializes for her to go home. Much of this novel could be edited out, and the story would be the better off without the tedious pauses in the action.


Readers who like the combination of fantasy and romance would enjoy Deborah Harkness' A Discovery of Witches. Those fascinated by the idea of a character transported to a magical world should try the Magic Kingdom of Landover series by Terry Brooks.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Children of the Jacaranda Tree, by Sahar Delijani

Disclosure: I received a free copy of Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani from Atria Books Galley Alley.


Delijani's prose has a lyrical quality that makes it tempting to reread the descriptions and comparisons in each chapter. She brings the sights, sounds, and smells of Iran off the page and into the reader's senses.


Intertwined stories focusing on different protagonists at different points in time don't always work well, but Delijani is successful in weaving her narratives together to compliment each other. The characters each have their own goals, dreams, fears and true losses, but they are all connected by how the Iranian revolution and its aftermath have affected them. This is a novel filled with individual and shared tragedies, yet resounding with hope underscored by the power of strong familial bonds.


Children of the Jacaranda Tree is a gateway into a culture and to conversations about issues global and universal, certain to become a book group favorite. A must-read for anyone who enjoyed A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Masks, by E.C. Blake

Disclosure: I received a free uncorrected proof of Masks by E.C. Blake courtesy of DAW Books via GoodReads First Reads.


The premise of this novel and the details about the uses and dangers of magic that the author provides give this fantasy tale a unique bent. Aygrima, the fantasy world in which Masks is set, is carefully crafted with backstory and geographical descriptions that gives the land a life of its own. These features almost beg for fan fiction to be written in the setting of Aygrima.


The main character Mara shows true growth from a sheltered and naive girl to a brave and decisive young lady. She is a believably teenage girl, who is admirable in her values and determination. All of the minor characters, even those with the smallest parts to play, have their own unique history and attributes to make them stand out.


Masks is a great step up for older teen readers moving into reading adult fantasy. This book has a bit of a dystopian feel without the cliches that seem to be becoming common in YA dystopian fiction. Adult readers who have enjoyed series such as Terry Brooks' Shannara novels should be sure to read Masks.


E.C. Blake has set the stage well for a coming sequel to Masks, which readers will await with great anticipation.