Monday, November 07, 2011

Home Front, Magic on the Line and Flavia DeLuce

Home Front by Kristin Hannah is the fourth book I've read by this author, and, full disclosure, it was sent to me as an ARC with a publication date of January 31, 2012. I was surprised at how fast this book reads, because its 390 pages long. But local favorite Hannah has created a wonderfully intimate story with characters so realistic I found it hard to believe I hadn't actually met them. The squeaky-clean prose has just the right amount of description and the plot, though complex, is still swift and sure. I found the book hard to put down once I started reading it this weekend, and, as I wrote to the marketing person for the book, you'll need to have a box of kleenex tissues handy when you read the novel, because from page 199 on, if you're not crying, you have no soul.
Home Front is, as the title declares, the story of a soldier at war, but this time, the soldier is Jolene "Jo" Z, whose husband Michael, a lawyer, doesn't approve of her military service and who tells her the day before she is deployed to Iraq that he no longer loves her. What follows is Jo's emails home to her two daughters that downplay the horrors of war, her private journal entries that tell the terrifying reality and Michael's struggle to raise his two children while also growing up and figuring out what he wants out of life and of his wife. When Jo's Apache Helicopter is shot down, and her best friend is near death's door and Jo loses her leg, the real test of family and marital love, loyalty and mental health are tested. I really felt for Jolene from the beginning of the book, because she had such a horrible childhood with selfish, alcoholic parents who abandoned her, only to have her selfish husband try to abandon her again just when she needed him most. But the fact that Jo gets through all the grief and guilt and manages to keep her marriage and her family intact while learning to walk with a prosthetic leg was just amazing and uplifting and made me proud to be an American and a woman. I would give this book an A, and recommend it to those who have either served in the military or come from military families. It's a journey worth taking, trust me.

Flavia deLuce is back, just in time for the holidays in "I am Half-Sick of Shadows," by Alan Bradley. As with all Flavia's mysteries, there is skulduggery afoot, but this time, it's all happening under Flavia's nose at the family estate, Buckshaw. The colonel, her father, is drowning in debt and allows a film crew to rent his family mansion for a movie to try and solve his cash flow problem. The film stars aging star Phyllis Wyvern, who agrees to do a scene from Romeo and Juliet (prior to shooting the film) as a fundraiser for the town church's roof repair. Unfortunately, though the whole town of Bishops Lacey shows up, so does a blizzard of Biblical proportions, and everyone is stuck at Buckshaw until the roads clear. Meanwhile, Flavia is concocting a sticky trap for St Nick and putting fireworks on the roof, while also uncovering family secrets about Phyllis Wyvern. When Wyvern ends up dead, strangled with her own movie film, Flavia gathers clues and figures out whodunit in record time. Though Flavia is the same age as my son Nick, she's a bit more mature, and uses her brilliant mind to see through the lies and secrets of the adults around her, without being judgmental. As with all the previous Flavia deLuce mysteries, Bradley's prose is clear and precise and his plots are so fast they're breathtaking. I'd give this book a B+ and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys British mysteries and unusual detectives/sleuths.
Finally, the second to last Allie Beckstrom urban fantasy, Magic on the Line (by Devon Monk) just hit the shelves at the beginning of November. This 7th novel in the series is pretty dark, and has Allie going up against the new head of the Authority, a bad apple named Bartholomew Wray, who refuses to believe that all the magic in the city has been corrupted by the Veiled, and is making Allie sick whenever she uses it. Add to that a plague that kills people who get bitten by the Veiled, and you can imagine the mayhem that ensues. Both Allie's boyfriend Zayvion and her Hound friends and authority friends will have to make some seriously tough decisions before the end of the book, and there is a lot of emotional fallout to deal with not only in her relationship with Zay, but in her dealings with the Authority and magic. As usual, I love Monks fun and funky Portland,Oregon setting, her zingy, tangy prose and her lightening-fast plots. It took me less than a day to read this book, and like potato chips, Monks novels leave you hungering for more. I'd give this book a B+ and recommend it to anyone who loves local urban fantasy and kick-arse heroines.

This guy has a point! Especially for someone like me, who has loads of books:

E-Books: A Threat to Marriage?

"The lightness of the e-book medium, literally and figuratively, holds a
terrible allure and an insidious threat to the heavily booked-up among
us. How many marriages, seemingly held firm by the impossibility of
moving several hundredweight of vinyl or CDs out of a family-sized home,
have already foundered post the digitization of music? How many more
will break if apparently inseparable and immovable matrimonial libraries
become something that anyone can walk out with in their pocket?"

--James Meek in the most recent issue of the London Review of Books

In my opinion, this is a much better way to change the world:
John Wood Continues to Change the World

Nicholas Kristof had a touching update in the New York Times yesterday
on John Wood, author of Leaving Microsoft to Change the World,
whose charity, Room to Read, has opened 12,000 libraries and 1,500
schools around the world since it began in 1998 and also supports some
13,500 impoverished girls. Recently, in Vietnam, Wood handed out his 10
millionth book.

Kristof wrote in part: "So many American efforts to influence foreign
countries have misfired--not least here in Vietnam a generation ago. We
launch missiles, dispatch troops, rent foreign puppets and spend
billions without accomplishing much. In contrast, schooling is cheap and
revolutionary. The more money we spend on schools today, the less we'll
have to spend on missiles tomorrow."

Woods told Kristof: "In 20 years, I'd like to have 100,000 libraries,
reaching 50 million kids. Our 50-year goal is to reverse the notion that
any child can be told 'you were born in the wrong place at the wrong
time and so you will not get educated.' That idea belongs on the
scrapheap of human history."

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