Scholastic Press, May 2016
Every child wants a pet at some time or another. A dog, kitten, pony or orangutan. Maybe orangutan isn’t typical, but if you grew up watching BJ and the Bear or Every Which Way But Loose, you may see the simian sway. Whatever the animal, it is almost always up to parents to make the decision. Children don’t always know what is best.
When John casually notes the potential appeal of ape ownership while watching an old movie, he was not actually asking for a pet. His dad could dig the draw when he recognized the leading “man” as an orangutan because sometimes the adorable orange creatures would wander around his company’s plant in Indonesia.
In fact, he returned from a business trip bearing a baby-orangutan-in-a-barrel. John was beside himself with wonder and joy. His mother was also struck with wonder; but hers was the “in doubt” version, much different than the “filled with admiration, amazement, or awe; marvel” version that burst from her son. John’s wonder won and Raja became the newest member of the family for four rambunctious years. Until divorce divided them.
The two year separation of John and Raja was torture; for both boy and beast; but paled in comparison to their last days together leading up to their final farewell. This relationship is written so well, it is as if I actually witnessed it. The fondness, understanding, patience, support and tolerance between the “brothers” is palpable. The range of emotions that rocket through John as he blindly battles the hardest decision of his entire life build the ultimate reader’s rollercoaster and recalling that this is a sixteen-year-old-boy, ties a knot and truly tugs the heart-strings.
I thoroughly enjoyed each and every bit of this tiny tome and would be remiss if I did not highly recommend Rescued to those searching for reads. While the book may technically tip into the Middle-Grade category (for the 12-year-old and older readers), I have no doubt that there are many Teen-Aged, Young-Adult and Not-So-Young-Adult readers that will love Raja’s story as intensely as I do, and I’m confident that I’m not the only reader to learn a lot from it.
Reviewed by jv poore, July 2016.
The Game of Love and Death
Arthur A. Levine Books, May 2015
The Game of Love and Death is positively packed with particulars to ponder. Love is a man, Death a woman. Each chooses a competitor, a term I use loosely; the chosen do not actually compete. Most people are unaware of the Game, even while participating. Virtually no rules, a victor is declared; but the win seems superfluous.
Flora, an amazing aviation mechanic, is also a phenomenal pilot, possibly rivaling Amelia Earhart. It is 1937 and she “has the brown skin, and here in America, (you) pay so very much heed to that.” Besides, she can trick herself into believing that she was meant for something else. The death of her parents created a void she valiantly tried to fill with the jazz nightclub she inherited. Flora chose work over a high school diploma, believing “…the club was her future and most white folk were hell-bent on keeping colored folk in their place, even if they were polite about it.”
Henry hasn’t had it easy, but he is a white male. His dream is simple: eke out a living with his beloved bass. Instead, he works for the newspaper of his almost-adopted family, often accompanying Ethan on interviews. When Henry sees Flora working on a plane, it is as if he had been sleep-walking through life and is just now completely awake.
The harrowing story of Flora and Henry in the The Game of Love and Death is enriched by the secondary characters. Ethan isn’t the golden boy he seems, and his secret struggles would tarnish his image if revealed; although there is nothing to be ashamed of. Simple spoken statements throughout, “there hasn’t been a white newspaper that’s written about the likes of us unless some sort of arrest was involved,” reiterate bigoted opinions; making the book more than just entertaining to thought-provoking, too.
Reviewed by jv poore, December 2016.
The Game of Love and Death
Arthur A. Levine Books, April 2015
Aren’t we all sometimes pawns in the game of life? Love and Death have been playing the same game over and over since the time of Cleopatra. Each chooses an infant, one male, one female who will meet when they’re older and fall in love…maybe. If love persists, Love wins, if love falters, Death wins and claims her chosen as a victim.
It’s 1920 and the latest round is about to begin, this time in Seattle with two babies who couldn’t be further apart given the times. Love chooses first by appearing in the nursery where Henry Bishop, a Caucasian, lies in his crib. Love pricks his finger and lets baby Henry suckle on his blood, thus setting his part of the game in motion.
One night later in a much poorer neighborhood, Death picks up a baby girl of African-American heritage named Flora Saudade. After carrying the child to the window where they watch snow falling, Death sheds one black tear which she captures on her fingertip, using it to write the word someday on the infant’s forehead. Thus is the game sealed.
While the rules of the game often seem arbitrary and stacked in Death’s favor, Love harbors little ill will toward his opponent (Love is male, Death, female). Both can assume whatever shape they choose, even appearing for extended periods as people familiar to their chosen players. In fact it is this very ability that factors into how both Flora and Henry interact when they meet seventeen years later.
By then, Flora’s parents have been dead a very long time, having perished when hit by a drunken police officer the night Death chose her. Henry is likewise an orphan. His mother and sister perished in an influenza outbreak and his father, terribly distraught by their loss, jumped to his death, leaving Henry to be taken in by his father’s best friend, the owner of the Seattle newspaper.
Flora has fallen in love with flying and has been taken under the wing of a French war hero who owns a fancy biplane that she maintains and flies whenever she’s allowed. Her other source of income comes from singing jazz in the club she and her uncle own, the only legacy left after her parents’ death. She’s an amazing singer, something Henry discovers when he convinces his best friend and son of his benefactor, Ethan, that they should check out the club. This isn’t the first time Henry has seen Flora. Ethan took him along when he went to do a feature on the plane and Flora was running a preflight check on it. Henry is also someone who has music in his blood as he plays the bass and loves to improvise.
While Death has never lost, there’s something about this match that worries her, so she pulls out all the stops, as if the fact that blacks and whites simply don’t mix in 1937 wasn’t sufficient to doom any sort of spark between Flora and Henry. The roadblocks thrown up in front of each lover, the direness of the times and all the gyrations both the players and their manipulators must go through by the end of the story will keep most readers enthralled. While the pace might be a bit slow for some, I loved this book, the characters and the sense of elegance it creates. Astute readers will also appreciate the relationship and insight Love and Death have with and about each other. Teens and adults who like an offbeat love story with some decidedly paranormal aspects will enjoy this book.
Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, September 2015.
Berkley, May 2012
Quinn Colson, the eponymous protagonist, has returned home to Tibbehah County, in rural northeast Mississippi, to attend the funeral of his beloved uncle. He is told that his uncle committed suicide, but refuses to accept that. In trying to uncover the truth, he discovers much more than just what the former sheriff had been up to in the months leading up to his death.
Quinn is a man of many talents and skills who had joined the Army when he was eighteen. The author says of him: “The Regiment had whittled him down to a wiry, muscular frame built for speed, surprise, chaos, and violence . . . .He had a Choctaw grandmother about a hundred years back mixed with the hard Scotch-Irish who settled the South.” He has not been home for six years, is now a platoon sergeant with the Rangers, having done tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and back again. He returns home to find a town that had seen hard times, getting harder, and a bunch of good ol’ boys spreading drugs, money and corruption wherever and whenever they can. The town is perhaps typified by the following: “Nobody has real names out here. We’re all just kind of passing through until we can get to Memphis or Jackson,” and a chancery clerk at the Courthouse whose “job was elected, but unless you ran away with half the county’s budget or performed an intimate act in public you could pretty much keep the job as long as you wanted it.”
All the action – – and there is a lot of it – – takes places over a one-week period, the time frame allowed to Quinn for his bereavement leave from the Army. There is a recurring theme of lost young women and the families – – and babies – – they leave behind. And finally the inevitable showdown that you knew had to be coming, but that packs a punch nonetheless, with some plot developments that perhaps should have been expected but were not, at least for this reader.
I have to admit that this was my first Ace Atkins book. It is one which is recommended, and I am looking forward to the next one. [He has written four standalones, plus four books in the Nick Travers series, and, recently, The Lost Ones, a sequel to The Ranger. In addition, the author was selected by the Robert B. Parker estate to continue the Spenser series, the first of which, titled, aptly enough, Robert B. Parker’s Lullaby, was also published in the past few months.]
Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2012.
S. J. Bolton
Minotaur Books, June 2012
The brief prologue sets the scene for the reader: Near midnight; one of the tallest towers in Cambridge, England; D.I. Mark Joesbury, racing up the stairs to its roof; and a young woman perched near the ledge at the top. And then the reader is brought back eleven days in time to see how they got there, with a 1st person p.o.v. of D.C. Lacey Flint, which alternates with third-person perspectives. Flint has been “loaned out” from the Southwark Police to the Special Crimes Directorate of the Metropolitan Police which deals with covert ops, typically being sent on “difficult and dangerous situations.” As we are introduced to them, the slightly flirtatious banter underlying their meetings hints at the least of a possible romantic entanglement between them at some point in the relatively recent past.
Lacey goes undercover as a student at Cambridge University after the latest in a number of suicides, with a suspicion that there is more going on than meets the eye. The death was only the latest of three suicides during the current academic year. The only one outside of her police colleagues who knows the truth is Dr. Evi Oliver, head of student counseling. The belief is that there is “something decidedly sinister” happening. Lacey’s remit is to “keep a lookout for any unhealthy subculture that might be unduly influencing young people.”
Initially Lacey feels out of her element: “I knew I’d never get used to it,” in a place where “Wordsworth and Wilberforce weren’t characters from history but alumni.” But she is there to do a job, and it becomes increasingly urgent. Within several days, one more death occurs. And further investigation indicates that there have been a total of nineteen suicides over the past five years, far more than the general statistics on suicide would bear out. And the manner of death chosen is not what might be expected, including self-immolation by one girl and another who’d decapitated herself. As the days go on, whatever is going on threatens to ensnare Lacey herself.
This is a book at once not an easy read and yet difficult to put down, much more so on both counts as the book progresses. The fifth novel from Ms. Bolton, this is the first I have read, but it will certainly not be the last. It is a nail-biter, beautifully written, and highly recommended.
Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2012.
Dinner with Lenny
Oxford University Press, January 2013
This is a book, sub-titled “The Last Long Interview with Leonard Bernstein,” that is slight in size only, but which provides hefty and fascinating insight into the mind of the internationally renowned “Lenny” Bernstein, brilliant conductor, composer of orchestral works as well as legendary musical scores for Broadway, including On the Town, Wonderful Town, and West Side Story, and lecturer at innumerable Young People’s Concerts at Carnegie Hall.
The author conducted a twelve-hour interview at Bernstein’s country home in Fairfield, Connecticut in November of 1989, not long after his 71st birthday – he passed away less than a year later. The book opens, fittingly, with a Prelude, and concludes with a Postlude, in which the author discusses his subject, with many details of his career, e.g., it was on his 25th birthday that he was appointed the conducting assistant to Artur Rodzinski, then the music director of the NY Philharmonic, who told the young man that he had “gone through all the conductors I know of in my mind and I finally asked God whom I should take, and God said, “Take Bernstein.” Three months later, he made his “legendary conductorial debut with the New York Philharmonic substituting for an ailing Bruno Walter on only a few hours’ notice at a Sunday afternoon Carnegie Hall concert on November 14, 1943.”
Bernstein states that he “was fourteen when I attended my first concert, and it was a revelation. It was a Boston Pops benefit for my father’s temple – – he had to go because he was vice-president of the temple.” He did jazz gigs as well as weddings and bar mitzvahs to defray the cost of his piano lessons. There is discussion on Freud; the family seders; political references, e.g., Bernstein was blacklisted for years and the FBI had a file on him 700 pages thick, and the fact that he made the front page of the NY Times and Washington Post – – which included his picture, he was quick to note – – when he refused to attend the White House luncheon awards ceremony given by President Bush; gave six lectures at Harvard University in 1973; famously took the all-Catholic Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, whose players didn’t know what a Jew was before he conducted them, to Israel; among many other anecdotes. Bernstein’s enthusiasm, erudition and brilliance shine through these pages. This is a book to be savored by musicians and non-musicians alike, and is highly recommended.
Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2012.