Monday, January 28, 2013

A Whole Blue World: And All the Stars by Andrea K. Host

This is one of those books that makes you want to cheer! The author, Andrea Host (two little dots over the o), has created a complete reality that you can believe in and a cast that are funny, smart and brave. Madeline Cost wakes up and finds herself in a collapsed train station covered in dust and debris. What can have happened? She had been on her way to meet her famous cousin Tyler, an actor, to paint his portrait in hopes of winning a major art prize... and now, this. She manages to extricate herself from the rubble and finds herself standing on... a body. She makes her way to a dim light source and sees night and stars, but not above, a huge wall of swirling stars stands before her. She reaches out and touches it...and, it knocks her back down into the dust and ruin.
Once she recovers enough, she answers a call from her mother who had been trying to reach her. She tells her to stay inside. There's been a cloud, a dust cloud, maybe germ warfare, and to avoid exposure. It's a little too late for that, but she lies to her mother and says she's safe, so her mother doesn't drive into danger on her behalf. She's on her own.
For now, anyway. Once She makes it to Tyler's apartment, her original destination, she discovers that the world has been giant spires that spew the dust clouds and have appeared in major cities across the globe, not just Sydney, Australia. People who had been exposed to the dust find themselves changing color, hints of blue or green. Madeleine strips off her clothes and examines herself... there are no traces of color, instead, areas of her body are a deep midnight blue with stars swirling below the skin.
I don't want to give away all the pleasures of meeting the other characters for yourself. I will just say that they are people you will love, and root for and cheer on and that there is suspense and there are plot twists where you , if you are anything like the Recommender, will be yelling "NO!" and "What!" and "OMG" at your book or e-book. This book is a true and utter delight and one that you want to re-read and one that you, too, will be militantly recommending!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough: A Creepy Classic

Long Lankin is one of the eeriest, creepiest, stay up late and finish it books the Recommender has read recently. It is wonderfully written and realized and the characters are plucky, brave and downright heroic. The book begins with a frightening English ballad that introduces a couple of characters who we will learn about as the story unfolds. We then meet two little sisters who have been sent from London to stay with their Aunt Ida and little do they realize what awaits them in the rural English countryside of Byers Guerdon.
Cora, the older sister, has looked out for Mimi most of her life. Their mother has gone away someplace and their handsome Dad has to try and earn a living without worrying about the girls. He corrals a friend to drive them to the country where he unceremoniously dumps them at the end of the road to their Aunt's house so he doesn't get his car stuck. They make their way up the muddy road and come across two boys sitting on a fence.
These boys, Roger, the older one and Pete his younger brother will become their comrades over the course of the summer.
Aunt Ida, on the other hand, is cold and not exactly welcoming. She lives in an old estate called Guerdon Hall with a scary carved baby's head over the door. She immediately plans their return to their father and warns them about exploring the house and the grounds.  They are not to open a door or a window, though the house is stifling in the very hot summer. Beyond the bathroom is a horrifyingly huge portrait of a man pointing at them. What can it all mean?  The next morning Aunt Ida sends the girls to the village to post the letter to their father. They are not to stay in the house.  And, whatever happens they are NOT to go into an old church, under ANY circumstances. On their way to town they meet up with Roger and Pete who suggest they have a look at the church. Cora is game though Mimi is reluctant, but not willing to be left behind. There's a creepy tree outside the church, the Gypsy tree, with old children's shoes and doll's heads scattered and nailed among its branches. If you think the tree is scary... then, wait till you get a look inside the church! Be sure to get a copy of this remarkable debut novel and learn all the secrets of Guerdon Hall and what lies beyond its gates. The story is told from the perspectives of Cora, Aunt Ida and Roger. The children are wonderfully engaging. Pete and Roger's family, complete with a mad mix of siblings a patient and caring Mom and an affable Dad are people you enjoy spending literary time with. Most of all, you will take Mimi and Cora to heart as these two brave girls make the best of things in the face of an unknown, pervasive evil.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch

 You might think a book about a hangman set in 1600's Bavaria would be a pretty grisly read. Instead, it has some of the most likable characters the Recommender has come across, as well as being a really good mystery that's intelligently written and has a dark sense of humor. The author, Oliver Pötzsch, is descended from a line of hangmen and knows how to tell a good story. What could be better? Jakob Kuisl's father was a hangman, as was his father and by all rights, his lovely, smart daughter Magdalena should eventually be the wife of the son of a hangman. As a boy Jakob had to help his father with some particularly gruesome executions at which time he vows never to make this his career.
We skip ahead and find Jakob, now an ex-soldier, wielding the executioner's sabre and tools of torture to earn a living in the town of Schongau and provide for his wife, Anna Maria, Magdalena and his young twins, Georg and Barbara. He is also a healer, a reader of advanced medical texts and savvy with herbs and potions. Jakob is a strong, thoughtful man, and capable of great bravery. He survives despite the double-standardism he deals with on a daily basis regarding the town's need for a hangman and its revulsion of him as being bad luck, and not fit to mix in polite society. His daughter is called "the hangman's wench"! Not the most pleasant time to be alive but one the author has brought vividly to life.
One day, a boy is pulled from the river. Things look bad. Someone goes for the town doctor and finds, instead his son, Simon Fronweiser, a young medical student. Alas, there's not much he can do. The town looks for a culprit. Who could do such a thing? The boy's father, a wagon-driver, suspects rival wagon-drivers. Then someone notices a mark on the boy's shoulder. A symbol. It looks to be a witch's sign! Of course! Now the towns-people remember! Peter, the boy, had been hanging out at the local mid-wife's house, along with several other children. She used herbs and potions. She's a witch! OK, maybe she delivered ALL the town's children over the years, but, hey, a witch is a witch.Years before, Schongau had been the site of a terrible witch hunt. What better way to solve your problems than by burning some unlucky women at the stake. Good times!
A contingent from the town go to take Martha, the mid-wife, into custody. The boy's father raises a studded stick to strike her. "I wouldn't do that" says a voice. It's Jakob, the hangman. Instead, she is taken to prison where she is to be tortured if she doesn't confess. By Jakob himself.
So begins this addictive story. Simon and Jakob are friends, Simon being an admirer of Jakob's vast medical library and knowledge...and of Jakob's daughter. Can this engaging trio find out who really killed the boy, and prevent any more killings or will Martha face the flames? This book is highly recommended. The Recommender LOVED the depiction of small town politics which haven't changed all that much since the bureaucracy of  1600s Bavaria. I LOVED Jakob, Simon and Magdalena who are all such complex, realistic and, yes, even endearing characters, I can't wait to read the next two titles which are now available in the USA! (Special thanks must go to the translator).   It is also the Goodwin Library's Book Club choice this month so there should a great discussion coming up next week!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

In Maureen Johnson's "The Name of the Star", our protagonist, Rory, (short for Aurora) is a nice southern girl whose professor parents are taking a sabbatical leave to teach American law in Bristol, England. Rory is all set for adventure and doing her senior high school year at an English boarding school in East London called Wexford. She gets a little more adventure than she bargained for, as she arrives at Wexford in the midst of  a serial killer recreating Jack the Ripper's infamous crimes on the same dates, more than 100 years later! And the school is right in the classic kill zone, near Whitechapel.
This story grabs you right off, as we settle into Wexford with Rory, meet her extremely nice and proper room-mate Jazza, and the prefects which include the handsome, Ripper-obsessed Jerome (from the Boy's dorm across the green) and the ultra-annoying Charlotte. Rory is starting to enjoy herself, going to classes and getting to know the other students, some a bit odd, like Alastair, the boy she always sees in the library, reading in the dark. What's up with him? And the Ripper continues to capture everyone's attention, striking again and again as the public wonders who will be next and throw Ripper parties to alleviate the tension.
You might think this is just another serial-killer story and you might be wrong. That's something you'll need to discover for yourself, as Rory does.
Ms. Johnson is a very engaging writer and despite the murders her characters still find time to eat and laugh and fall in love. This is the first of a series... and one the Recommender thinks she's going to like!