Audio Book Review of Gemina, The Illuminae #2

by  Amie Kaufman and  Jay Kristoff

Replete with a wormhole, invading forces, computer systems and Geminaspace ship environs Gemina doesn’t let down. Lots of action and fun dialogue keeps the story moving in this sci-fi adventure.

Leading female roles with wit and keen minds played against ruthless adults. Teen characters primarily drove the story and romance of some kind played out in almost every scene. Teen boy’s interested in sex at all costs dominated the banter between Hanna and her suitors. Both the bad boy drug dealer, Nik, and the seemingly straight-laced geek talked as though they wanted the same thing from the heroine.

An interesting set-up of parallel universes during the climax of the novel didn’t go far enough for my tastes. Kaufman and Kristoff left the opportunity to delve into philosophical and emotional implication largely unexplored.

Multiple Voices in Audiobook

Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) listed Gemina as one of the top ten 2017 Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults.  Stating that the “full cast production that drops the listener right in the middle of the action”. This is true and I liked the variation of voices, male, female, young and old. Some of the computer voices were a bit creepy however. Still, a great direction for audiobooks to be moving.

As the audiobook industry develops I expect we’ll hear many more books done with multiple voices and sound effects added to fully enjoy the audio experience. For some this will replace reading, for others not, but it’s fun to hear actor’s interpretations of a book.

Audio Book Review of Gemina, The Illuminae #2Gemina (The Illuminae Files, #2) by Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff, Marie Lu
Series: The Illuminae #2
on January 1st 1970
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult, Adventure
Pages: 659
Goodreads

The highly anticipated sequel to the instant New York Times bestseller that critics are calling “out-of-this-world awesome.”

Moving to a space station at the edge of the galaxy was always going to be the death of Hanna’s social life. Nobody said it might actually get her killed.

The sci-fi saga that began with the breakout bestseller Illuminae continues on board the Jump Station Heimdall, where two new characters will confront the next wave of the BeiTech assault.

Hanna is the station captain’s pampered daughter; Nik the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. But while the pair are struggling with the realities of life aboard the galaxy’s most boring space station, little do they know that Kady Grant and the Hypatia are headed right toward Heimdall, carrying news of the Kerenza invasion.

When an elite BeiTech strike team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home. But alien predators are picking off the station residents one by one, and a malfunction in the station’s wormhole means the space-time continuum might be ripped in two before dinner. Soon Hanna and Nik aren’t just fighting for their own survival; the fate of everyone on the Hypatia—and possibly the known universe—is in their hands.

But relax. They’ve totally got this. They hope.

Once again told through a compelling dossier of emails, IMs, classified files, transcripts, and schematics, Gemina raises the stakes of the Illuminae Files, hurling readers into an enthralling new story that will leave them breathless.

Book Review, salt to the sea by Ruth Sepetys

Historical Fiction for All Ages

The brutality of war from the civilian refugee perspective comes to life in Ruth Sepetys’ historical fiction novel salt to sea, the story of refugees evacuating Germany during WWII.

by Ruth SepetysRussia’s invasion of Germany comes alive through four refugee’s perspectives. While they flee, the atrocities behind their struggles and the secrets they carry haunt them. Joanne struggles to protect her travel companions, while nursing everyone she can. Alfred, a german soldier stationed on a ship, writes letters in his head. His love back home destined not to receives them.  Emilia, a fifteen year old polish girl who lost her family, fights the demons trapped in her mind. And Floria, a German civilian who saved Emilia’s life, distrusts everyone, especially himself, as he runs from the country he once honored.

Written in first person point-of-view, Sepetys’ story focuses on  individual refugee’s perceptions and internal struggles.  Short dialogue sequences capture interactions between them.

It’s clear a lot of research went into Sepetys’ plot, but she manages to create a story that touches the cord of humanity so deeply that the historical components of the story support the characters, rather than the other way around. It would do us well, however, to remember this harrowing piece of history lost in common knowledge.

Ruth Sepetys Writes for Writers

Beyond the integration of history in Sepetys’ story she offers much to learn for any writer. She uses every means she can to develop character. Note the sparse language used to create settings and establish emotions, while still driving the story forward.

Instead of each chapter telling what that person did, Sepetys often choses to develop characters through others’ observations. An example from Emilia’s chapter follows. “The shoe poet woke early, rapping our feet with his walking stick.”

Another example from Joanne’s perspective: “I had woke in the middle of the night and imagined I saw the German standing above me in the dark. When I blinked he was gone and I realized it was a dream.” or was it?

The climax wraps around the converted cruise ship Wilhelmina Gustoff. For pictures and a history of the Cruise Liner Wilhelm Gustloff check out feldgrau.com

Book Review, salt to the sea by Ruth SepetysSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Published by Philomel Books on February 2nd 2016
Genres: Adventure, Historical Fiction, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 393
Goodreads

Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.
Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.
As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.
Yet not all promises can be kept.
Inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, bestselling and award-winning author Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) lifts the veil on a shockingly little-known casualty of World War II. An illuminating and life-affirming tale of heart and hope.

Book Review of Sacred River by Debu Majumdar

The Story of a Temple Gold Heist,

In Sacred River, A Himalyan Journey, Debu Majumdar introduces us to East Indian characters from all walks of life.  He weaves them Sacred River by Debu Majumdartogether as they journey to the source of the Sacred River, each for their own reasons. The meld of characters on their disparate quests immerses the reader in the complexities of India’s rich and diverse culture.

The question of ‘what happens to the gold that monasteries receive from worshipers’ became the focus of the murderous prologue scene. From there we follow three primary story lines. The poor farmer Jaglish, a light to cherish, begins and ends Majumdar’s story. Persons associated with the SMS society contrast with the farmer’s endearing role. The SMS needs money for philanthropic endeavors. Although work by the SMS helps the poor, its leaders  plan to grow the charity exponentially, thus putting them into a precarious financial position. When they acquire an old manuscript with a mysterious sequence of numbers, they make plans to rob a temple at the source of the Ganges.

Majumdar introduces Shovik in chapter 5. Although Shovik grew up in India, he married and lived with his family in the USA. His midlife crisis drew him back to India. Majumdar intertwines the three story lines, with each character reflecting a different aspect of India.

Backstories peppered throughout enlighten the reader on motives and personal challenges. We travel through a couple childhoods which took me out of the main plot. But ultimately, the story returns to the gold heist.

Debu Majumdar Writes India as a Character

India exists as a character itself in Majumdar’s tale. Rich detail on the intricacies of Indian culture impregnate every page. His descriptions take you there. You walk the streets and meet the people.  Majumdar blends history and religion, while Hindu folk tales add yet another layer.

The cover fooled me. It gave me the impression of a spiritual book, rather than a fiction novel. While the spiritual transformations that the journey to the source of the Ganges prompts is the theme of the story, the gold heist functions as the plot holding everything together. The heist itself is a fun read.

Majumdar wins

Literary Suspence/Adventure

Book Review of Sacred River by Debu MajumdarSacred River: A Himalayan Journey by Debu Majumdar
Published by Bo-Tree House on October 10th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Historical Fiction
Goodreads

"Mystery, love and beautiful scenery wrapped into a terrific journey."
- Jim Porell, Pine Plains, NY.
An Indian-American journeys to mystical Gangotri Glacier in the Himalayas, searching for peace and renewal. As he travels, a pilgrimage temple near the glacier becomes the target of a gold heist. Pilgrims, thieves, tourists, and events flow toward the temple independently with their individual stories. The life struggles of an illiterate farmer, lofty goals of a charitable organization, desire for fame, romance, and cultural nuance, along with Indian myths and legends, supply colorful threads to the story. Their paths cross and re-cross until the ultimate denouement. As little tributaries flow together to make the magnificent Ganges River, each thread is woven to make a beautiful tapestry with an uplifting conclusion. While, on the surface, all action centers on the treasure heist, underneath, this is a story of a spiritual quest invigorated by Indian mythological and folk tales. The novel is also a travelogue of India; through the events of the journey and planning for the gold heist, the reader comes face to face with the real India. A Himalayan journey that will touch your soul.

Praise for Sacred River

Sacred River is a deceptively readable novel that begins with murder and ends with a temple treasure hunt. The real treasure, however, is the intervening story which unwraps India itself--its deep history, dramatic geography, captivating people and above all its spirituality, both Hindu and Buddhist. The writing is clear, swift and engaging, as if written for young readers, but readers of every age will enjoy and profit from it. Since at least Tagore, modern Indian writers have offered great gifts to the rest of the world. Sacred River is another one.
- Jerry Brady, former newspaper publisher, Peace Corps staff member, and co-founder of one of the world's largest micro-lending organizations, Accion International.
Sacred River graciously introduces us to the old songs and stories about gods and heroes who make sites sacred and pilgrimages fruitful. And as an Indian story of pilgrimage ought to do, Sacred River also teaches its readers that the best fruits of pilgrimage are reserved for those who do not seek them.
- David Curley, Professor Emeritus, Western Washington University.
A brilliant novel, which gives a wonderfully vivid flavour of India with all its idiosyncrasies and contradictions. It transports you there, from Delhi to the foothills of the Himalayas, and there is an intriguing glimpse into Hindu beliefs and gods with insightful snippets of scriptures and stories. The novel also involves an ancient manuscript, a mysterious number sequence, and a plot to steal temple treasures. Fascinating and thought provoking that will bowl you along, wanting to know more.
- Barbara Hall, Nibley Green, Gloucestershire, U.K.
Mystery, love and beautiful scenery wrapped into a terrific journey. This book has elements of both a murder/mystery and historical fiction. What is unexpected is the spiritual journey that the author took with his characters, which might also be a pilgrimage of sorts for the reader. There are some great life lessons shared in the book, intertwined with a love story, deception and intrigue and a wonderful travelogue on the trip to the head of the Ganges River. All of these different angles are woven together in a very enjoyable way. It is worth every minute!
- Jim Porell, IBM Distinguished Engineer, retired, Pine Plains, NY.

Dragon Rule by E. E. Knight Book Review

Dragon Rule takes place in a world where dragons live along Dragon Rule by EE Knightside humans and, most importantly, dragons rule there. As expected, cooperation between the groups can be strained, but E. E. Knight focuses on tensions between dragons, rather than the human versus dragon relationship.

Although Knight starts and ends his novel with the Copper, the story diverges into his sister’s and brother’s lives. The reader follows subplots for many dragon characters. Although each is integral to the main story-line, subplots subsume the Copper’s struggle. Perhaps Knight planned for supporting characters to fight the Copper’s battles for him. With that said, no particular character engaged me so much that I burn for the next installment of The Age of Fire series.

If Knight intends a moral message, ‘blood is thicker than water’ appears a possibility. Copper and his brother and sister have very different personalities and morals, but when challenges confront the family, they stick together.

Nice descriptions of dragon environs, the Lavadome and  caves where dragons live helped establish settings, although in general the book lacked the due diligence I expect from an award winning novelist. Knight writes clearly with plenty of dialogue; however, typos occur too often, a complaint many reviews mention and I found unprofessional.

Dragon Rule: Book Five of The Age of Fire Series

It’s clear Knight enjoys writing about dragons. He personifies them with keen attention to their physical limitations, historical contrivances and builds cultures one may expect in a dragon world.

Perhaps because I didn’t read the first books in the series, Dragon Rule didn’t fully engage me. This book doesn’t stand on its own.  It appears written for current fans, as a bridge to the next installment of the series.

Dragon fans should check out the History of Dragons on the Draconsinka web site for some fun information on dragon lore in general.

Dragon Rule by E. E. Knight Book ReviewDragon Rule (Age of Fire, #5) by E.E. Knight
Series: Age of Fire #5
Published by Roc on December 1st 2009
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 320
Goodreads

The author of the national bestselling Vampire Earth series presents the fiery fifth book in his epic dragons saga.
Scattered across a continent, three dragon siblings are among the last of a dying breed?the final hope for their species? survival.
Wistala, sister to the Copper who is now Emperor of the Upper World, has long thought humans the equal of dragons. She leads the Firemaids, fierce female fighting dragons who support the Hominids of Hypatia. Which puts her at odds with both her brothers, for the Copper has no use for the humans he now dominates and AuRon, the rare scale-less grey, would isolate himself and his family from both the world of men and the world of dragons. But as the Copper?s empire roils with war, greed, and treachery, the time is fast approaching when Wistala will have to choose who to stand with? and fight for...

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

Redd Becker Book Review

The True Confessions of Charlotte DoyleThe True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, a coming-of-age adventure, leads the way with a dynamic heroine. Avi portrays Charlotte as smart, courageous and ‘willing to make things right’ when she makes mistakes. But as Charlotte faces a world more convoluted than her protected girl’s school had been, her moral compass requires fine tuning.

Avi mixes historical details well in this mystery adventure. Written in first person, Charlotte shows us the world of the high seas. Our thirteen year old heroine finds herself caught between captain and crew, when she transverses the Atlantic as the only female on a ship ripe for mutiny. Her naivety as a privileged girl, schooled at Barrington School for Better Girls in 1832, gets her in trouble when she does what they taught prudent. Their advice backfires and Charlotte finds herself an outcaste on a ship of ruffians.

In her desire to fix things, Charlotte joins the ship’s crew. She regains their respect because she’s willing to work hard, but she quickly finds herself accused of murder. The story and mystery of who committed the murder progresses with no shortage of action.

Charlotte Doyle’s story is a fun read, but thematic meanings are never far. The heroine’s innocence, due to gender and class, limits her at first, but she learns quickly and tries to make amends–regardless what it costs her. An unconventional ending leaves readers satisfied that the life lessons she learned will go to good use.

Newberry Book Honor Award for The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle received a Newberry Honor Book Award. Sometimes Newberry Honor books are overly literary, but Avi’s tale depicts a strong heroine in a fun, swashbuckling adventure. This makes it great to read in classrooms. Action keeps young readers engaged, while life messages lurk beneath the surface.

Schmoop provides a wonderfully insightful critique on the book, even if you don’t agree with all of it.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by AviThe True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
Published by HarperCollins on August 10th 2004
Genres: Adventure, Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 229
Goodreads

A vicious captain, a mutinous crew and a young girl caught in the middle. Not every thirteen-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty. But I was just such a girl, and my story is worth relating even if it did happen years ago. Be warned, however: If strong ideas and action offend you, read no more. Find another companion to share your idle hours. For my part I intend to tell the truth as I lived it.

The Goose Girl, a retelling by Shannon Hale

Redd Becker Book Review

Goose GirlGoose Girl retells the fairy tale of a princess done wrong, who struggles to regain her rightful place on the throne. Her mother, the queen, exiles her daughter to another country in an arranged marriage. This remains one of my least favored plot lines, but this retelling enchanted me.

Hale tells the story in a style I refer to as literary light. Her use of language to create the princess’s world demonstrates empathy with all facets of the story. Scrumptious descriptions of landscapes, ancient cities, village life, woodlands, palaces and markets fill every scene, but the descriptions don’t over power the story or characters.

At a time when movies, TV shows and novels maximize action, conflict, fear and dark imagery, Goose Girl provided relief. Struggles were clear, but not harsh. They entertained without causing angst.

Goose Girl as Fairy Tale and Fantasy

Technically Goose Girl fits the fantasy genre, because the princess possesses the ability to talk to animals and manipulate the wind.  Hale so adeptly integrates these qualities that the magic appears naturally human in the characters.

Subplots lace the main story line and Hale takes care to develop them. Many of her characters grow and change, as they encounter new circumstances. A fun band of helpers who tend animals for the palace gather around the princess.

Wikipedia provides a nice synopsis of the original German fairy tale.

Hale’s rendition of Goose Girl gained much recognition including: A New York Public Library ‘100 Titles for Reading and Sharing’ Book; A Josette Frank Award Winner; A Texas Lone Star Reading List Book; A Utah State Book Award Winner (YA); and A Utah Speculative Fiction Award Winner.

The Goose Girl, a retelling by  Shannon HaleThe Goose Girl (The Books of Bayern, #1) by Shannon Hale
Series: The Books of Bayern #1
on January 1st 1970
Genres: Adventure, Fantasy, Magical Realism, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 383
Goodreads

Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, spends the first years of her life under her aunt's guidance learning to communicate with animals. As she grows up Ani develops the skills of animal speech, but is never comfortable speaking with people, so when her silver-tongued lady-in-waiting leads a mutiny during Ani's journey to be married in a foreign land, Ani is helpless and cannot persuade anyone to assist her.
Becoming a goose girl for the king, Ani eventually uses her own special, nearly magical powers to find her way to her true destiny. Shannon Hale has woven an incredible, original and magical tale of a girl who must find her own unusual talents before she can become queen of the people she has made her own.

 

Bear Bait by Pamela Beason, author of Endangered

Bear BaitRedd Becker Book Review

Bear Bait, A Summer Westin Mystery, takes place in the Olympic National Forest.  Summer, a freelance writer/nature biologist, encounters everything from poaching, bombs, illegal mining and teens gone awry, but no wrong-doing passes without our heroine’s concern. She’s a strong, believable character with intellect, compassion and a bit of a self righteous temperament. Don’t we love it? She possesses an almost unhealthy commitment to endangered species and effectively entangles herself into every explosive situation she encounters, thus creating suspense at every turn.

Characters in Bear Bait

I enjoy Beason’s integration of characters from all walks of life. Persons of varied sexual orientation, heritage and status come alive with equal finesse. Varied political and environmental perspectives find a place in most characters. The inclusion of issues working for the National Park Service versus the United States Forest Service appeared authentic, although I hope over-emphasized.

The addition of teens provides an unexpectedly nice balance. Not many characters come through with great depth, but in general they represent a wide spectrum of perspectives from the naive, rebellious, self righteous and those deserving of redemption.

Romance hovers in the wings, but never dominates the mystery. It adds color and sometimes tension for Summer. Her love interest, Chase, is an FBI agent working on a case nearby. Chase’s story-line somewhat conveniently,  intersects the multi-threaded issues that ensnare Summer. One wonders if Chase’s motives are for real or are calculated to pull her along for his own agenda. The resolution of the romantic element at the end of the book disappointed.

Summer is often referred to as Sam in the story. I questioned this decision by the author, because it didn’t add to the story and could be confusing.

Although Beason takes us to Forks, Washington, the small town made famous in the Twilight series, she barely references the books.

Bottom line for Bear Bait

Bear Bait engulfs the reader in an engaging mystery that exposes many aspects of the environmental movement in the Northwest that doesn’t often present themselves to those in other parts of the country.

Goodreads gives Bear Bait a 4.2 star rating, which is a bit above the usual 3.4 or 3.5 average. For another reviewers perspective go to the blog Mysteries and My Musings where Ariel reviews three of Pamela Beason’s mysteries.

Bear Bait by Pamela Beason, author of EndangeredBear Bait (Summer Westin Mystery, #2) by Pamela Beason
Series: Summer Westin #2
Published by Berkley on October 2nd 2012
Genres: Adventure, Mystery
Pages: 320
Goodreads
five-stars

 Wildlife biologist and writer Summer “Sam” Westin loves the wilderness. But her latest attempt to protect nature may just get her burned… 
Sam Westin is working on a twelve-week project for the National Park Service as a biologist and a volunteer firewatcher when, one night, she hears an explosion. Above a nearby lake, fire lights the sky. She calls it in and is the first on the scene to do battle. When the blaze is finally extinguished, a body is discovered in the embers. It’s a young woman who was working on the park’s trail crew for the summer—and she’s still clinging to life.
Sensing something sinister, Sam starts asking questions. Who started the fire? Was the young woman involved? Does this have something to do with an old gold mine? Is the recent sighting of an illegal bear hunter just coincidence? Sam wants the answers—but someone else wants her out of the way before she finds them...