Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Big Bang: "Learning to Swear in America" by Katie Kennedy

Katie Kennedy's Learning to Swear in America is a must read for anyone who craves something different, something completely original and with a lead character who will win you over from the first page. Yuri Strelnikov is that character. Ms. Kennedy brings him to life so brilliantly that the reader wishes he were actually alive and could maybe take charge of some other problems besides the asteroid that is hurtling towards Earth.
This asteroid is aiming to take out a good chunk of North America. It has a name. The BR1019.
 17 year old Yuri Strelnikov is a boy genius from Russia who has arrived at NASA's Near Earth Object Program (part of its Jet Propulsion Laboratory) based in Pasadena, California, to share his input on how to stop it from destroying California, among other things.
The scientists, professors and Military personnel working on this project are all much older, some much, much older, than Yuri, who holds a Doctorate and works at a university in Russia. His time will be spent at the lab and at the hotel he's been booked into.
One morning, as he pours himself a coffee at work, he sees a girl walk into the room. She was around his age and very striking what with all her dangly jewelry and unique hair color. She was looking for her father. Not a scientist, the janitor. A guard escorts her out. Angry at the guard's treatment of the girl, he follows her out bearing coffee and donuts. They seem to connect... but then she spots her Dad and takes off.
Will Yuri ever see the girl again? Will the asteroid crash into Earth ? These are questions that will all be answered in this stunningly delightful debut novel. Ms. Kennedy is a terrific story teller and I guarantee you will fall in love with Yuri. The Recommender certainly did. 5 stars! Make that a whole galaxy of them! A BIG thank you, NetGalley for approving this DRC!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Truth and Lies: "Unhooked" by Lisa Maxwell

What can I say? I am almost always attracted to the fictional outlaws and bad guys and the anti-heroes like... the Phantom, Dracula, and...pirates! in the books I read.  One pirate in particular: Captain Hook! The Recommender LOVES Peter Pan based novels and has read some really good ones. I just finished Lisa Maxwell's very intriguing take on the Captain and LOVED her depiction of that character.
But, let us start at the beginning. Gwen Allister has lived all her life on the move. Her mother, an artist, has dragged her from place to place seeking to avoid "the monsters". Could all this be part of her artistic sensibility, as she takes commissions and creates art, or could she suffer from some sort of delusions? Gwen isn't sure. So when they end up in London and take up residence in an old house, Gwen and her friend Olivia, who is spending the summer with the Allisters, don't know what to make of her mother's reactions to a mural on the wall. The faded painting seems to portray a group of  dancing fairies. Why should this bother her mother? And then, there's the bracelet her Mom gives her, blue-gray stones, to protect her, but...from what?
After they are finally settled, taking the room with the mural, and wondering at the landlord's warning about turning off the light that hangs above the bed, Olivia suggests they go for a run. After their run and unfamiliar with their surroundings, Olivia approaches a girl to ask for directions. Gwen sees the girl as a threat, with pointed teeth and dark, strange eyes, but Olivia just sees someone normal, wondering why Gwen is dragging her rudely away.
And later, in bed, dismissing the warning about the light, Gwen turns it off.
Not long after, she is abducted by winged creatures, flown through the night, and dropped into the sea!
It is when she comes to, rescued, and finding herself on a ship, of all things, that she comes face to face with the man who commands it. Captain Hook. A man not so much older than her, it seems, and yet with an air of authority, a scar across his attractive face and a mechanical hand instead of the mythical hook.  His crew is made up of a variety of young boys, all armed.
Is she as delusional as her mother? This can't all be real...can it?
You will have to see for yourself whether Gwen survives her ordeal and what else lies in store for her and those she loves. And, you ask, what about Peter Pan? He's there, too, in a very interesting incarnation. But it is Hook you will remember...long after the final page is turned.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Gone Hollywood: "Be Frank With Me" by Julia Claiborne Johnson

Sometimes you just fall in love with a character when you read a book. And you will do just that with Frank, the little boy referenced in the title of this charming debut novel.  It's the kind of book that's so good you don't want it to end.
Alice Whitley works at a NY publishing house as an assistant to editor Isaac Vargas, who, back in the 70's had discovered a manuscript by a young woman that became a world-wide and continuously in print best seller. Think "To Kill a Mockingbird" or "Catcher in the Rye". The book "The Pitcher" was that huge and had been made into a movie, as well.
The author of that best-seller never wrote another word and became a kind of recluse living in California with a wall around her compound to keep her fans at bay. After making some bad investments and losing a lot of her savings, M.M. (or Mimi) Banning realizes she's got to produce another book and contacts Mr. Vargas. She also requests he send her an assistant. Mr. Vargas decides Alice is the girl for the job.
 What Alice finds waiting for her is not, as she thought, the transcribing of the cranky Ms. Banning's manuscript as she writes it... but rather to be the caretaker of her 9 year old son, Frank.
To say Frank is on a spectrum doesn't do him justice. He's on his own spectrum. One that includes a very full and extensive knowledge of golden age Hollywood movies and every bit of dialogue or trivia that goes along with them.
Plus, he has a sense of style to go along with the leading men he admires and a huge wardrobe of suits and costumes for any role he feels like inhabiting on any particular day. He also has issues which Alice must learn to navigate while also keeping tabs on his mother, typing away behind closed doors, and keeping notes for her boss in case he needs any information on how she's doing.

The Recommender won't spoil the pleasure of this engaging story by giving away too much about the trials and triumphs of Alice and Frank. You'll want to discover them for yourself. And Ms. Johnson deserves some kind of special award for giving us Frank and Alice and the rest of the characters that inhabit her endearing world.