Book Review: This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger—and a Giveaway! @WmKentKrueger @AtriaBooks

This Tender Land
William Kent Krueger
Atria Books, September 2019
ISBN 978-1-4767-4929-7
Hardcover

Literature fills almost as many needs as there are readers. This novel, solemn, deliberate, moving, is not for the harried or the cynical. Or maybe it is, if the reader is at least willing to consider the mysterious and sometimes mystical forces that surround us. Faith, like awareness of the natural world, is largely a private matter. This novel ultimately raises and thoughtfully considers more questions than it answers. Or not. The book is eminently satisfactory as a fine piece of literature for whatever enjoyment and satisfaction any reader gains from the story, a journey of life and death and misdeeds and love and, perhaps, redemption. Certainly forgiveness.

The journey begins with the difficult abusive lives of three inmates of a hard-scrabble boarding school in rural Minnesota in the midst of the deep depression that engulfed the nation in the nineteen-thirties. Three young men, in their early teens, Albert, Odie and Moses, grow closer in their mutual efforts to resist being smashed under by the persistent and sadistic efforts of the school officials who do not shy away from meting out corporal punishment at the drop of a fork.

When the opportunity a huge storm presents, the three boys collect a girl they all know from a nearby farm and lately orphaned like them, then run away from the school and determine to somehow make their way to Saint Louis. So they have a definite goal, however ethereal.

The adventure and the travelers’ desperate need to stay out of the clutches of the law infuses the story with tension and excitement, and the carefully crafted descriptive passages only add to the forward drive. Here readers will find evangelists, storekeepers, the law, liars, good and bad people and a story that ultimate raises fundamental questions of relationships.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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To enter the drawing for a print
advance reading copy of
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger,
leave a comment below. Two winning
names will be drawn on Sunday
evening, September 8th. This drawing is
open to residents of the US & Canada.

Book Reviews: Stolen Memories by Mary Miley and Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Stolen Memories
Mary Miley
CreateSpace, November 2015
ISBN 978-151-8883705
Trade Paperback

If you asked me for a book that you could really sink your teeth into—a murder-mystery with just a hint of romance—one that is a delight to read, but not “light reading”…..you know, something that keeps your eyes glued to the pages you are frantically turning and sneaks into your thoughts at random times; but doesn’t necessarily rip out your heart & run away with it–I’d happily hand you Stolen Memories.

1928 was a fabulous time to be a young woman in Europe.  It was particularly exciting and opportunistic for the intelligent, courageous woman carving a path for her own independence and paving the way for others to follow. Eva Johnson, however, is not that woman.   Rather, she is a self-serving, manipulative, nasty thief who has no problem spilling a bit of blood along her way.

When she awoke under the concerned eyes of a doctor in France, Eva had no idea what landed her in a hospital bed.  She has no memory, at all.  She surely does not remember marrying that angry giant hulking around her bedside.  More importantly, she can’t fathom being married at all.  Even in the absence of her memories, she’s sure there’s been a huge mistake.  This initial unease and uncertainty perfectly set the tone for her tale.

Eva desperately wants to regain her memory to reclaim her true self, nothing about being a part of this eccentric family feels relatable.  Those around her share her goal, but for very different reasons.  Deciding who to trust is a daily challenge.  Information is fed to her intermittently and often, inaccurately.  Her every move is watched and scrutinized.

Under such close inspection, we begin to see some interesting things.  While some may simply want to recover their stolen property, someone wants her dead.  Further muddying the waters, Eva is just not herself.  With seemingly natural inclinations towards kindness, she stuns her family.  It is particularly entertaining to watch a mystery unravel while the participants continue to be puzzled.  The many moving parts make for a quick, compelling read.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2016.

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Counting by 7s
Holly Goldberg Sloan
Puffin Books, September 2014
ISBN 978-0-14-242286-1
Trade Paperback

This is one of those treasures recommended for ages 10 and up that I believe everyone can thoroughly enjoy, not just older elementary and middle-grade people.

I can’t imagine the person who would not be charmed, then completely smitten with young Willow, who at the tender age of 12 has her world shattered.  An admirable and awe-inspiring person Before, her strength, courage and resolve After show the reader what a real-life super-heroine is all about.

Even cooler, we see her spirit, determination and natural kindness pour out and touch so many.  Those touched by Willow intuitively and impulsively stand a little straighter, try a little harder and become more generous.

Few books have the ability to render sobs, then a smile, but this one does.  I would chastise myself for letting this sit on my shelf for so long instead I’m going to consider the timing serendipitous, because now I can pass this jewel on to my son’s middle-grade classroom library.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2016.

Book Review: Confessions: The Private School Murders by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Confessions The Private School MurdersConfessions: The Private School Murders
James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
Little, Brown and Company, October 2013
ISBN 97800-316-20765-2
Hardcover

I simply love a good mystery. Whenever I pick up a book that falls into the Mystery category, I envision my own, personal game of Clue. I can’t wait to figure out who, what, when, where, why and how. I enjoy mysteries so much, in fact, that I am going to try to solve one as I write this review. Why, when Mr. Patterson won’t play with me, do I keep reading his books?

Although it puzzles me, I am a James Patterson fan. A few years ago, I found myself waiting somewhere without a book. In desperation, I plucked a tattered copy of Roses are Red from the rack at the Whatever-Mart. Then, I was hooked. I went back to the first Alex Cross book and ploughed through until I was caught up at which point I dived into the Women’s Murder Club books as I excitedly awaited the release of the next Alex Cross adventure.

Because I adore Mr. Patterson’s books for adults so much; I fully expected to be blown away by his writing for Young Adults, who, quite frankly, can be a much more demanding, fickle and harder to please audience than we Older Adults tend to be.
This is a follow-up to Mr. Patterson’s first YA book, Confessions of A Murder Suspect. Although I hadn’t read the first book, the sequel was very easy to slip into. The Angel family is a captivating cast of characters within themselves. Tandy Angel, the teen-age sister is our main character and narrator. Her older brother is accused of killing his pregnant girlfriend. Both her twin brother and her younger brother look to Tandy to clear his name. In the meantime, she is a bit distracted by the fact that girls her age, attending elite private schools, just like she does; are turning up dead. Oh, and some pretty funky, mysterious and quite creepy things are going down in the Dakota, where the siblings currently reside.

The story-line is fascinating and the writing is sharp and witty. Mr. Patterson sticks with his old tricks in that he taunts me with the mystery. For example, at one point Tandy “opens the door and finds the proof that she needs.” WHAT did she find? How can I possibly solve this mystery when he won’t divulge this information? How dare he have the character hold those cards so close to her chest? His books are like Atari’s Pac Man (come on, some of you remember this). I would get annoyed and frustrated, but I always kept playing.

No, I haven’t solved my conundrum of why I keep reading Mr. Patterson’s mysteries when I know that I will never, ever be given the information to solve the crime before the hero does. I only know that his ideas are amazing and his story-telling is masterful. I guess I could say that Mr. Patterson’s books are the Candy Crush of the written word, and I am hooked.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2014.

 

Book Reviews: Phantoms in the Snow by Kathleen Benner Duble and Why We Took the Car by Wolfgang Herrndorf

Phantoms in the SnowPhantoms in the Snow
Kathleen Benner Duble
Scholastic Press, February 2011
ISBN 978-0-545-19770-0
Hardcover

Being relatively well-educated, I have carried around the belief that I knew (basically) all about World War II.  We start learning about it in 6th grade and we continue to study it well into our senior year.   Why is it, then, that I had never heard of the Phantoms (Tenth Mountain Division)?  I feel cheated.

Ms. Duble’s Phantoms in the Snow tells the courageous and heart-wrenching story of a very young Texas farmer, contentedly plodding along until his world is shattered.  The untimely death of his parents land 15-year old Noah with an uncle he had never heard of.  As if the circumstances wouldn’t be challenging enough, Uncle Shelley happens to be a high-ranking soldier at Camp Hale, Colorado.  He is training an elite team of soldiers to send to the snowy mountains in Europe.  These men are the only hope of capturing Riva Ridge and Mount Belvedere in Italy.  In doing so, the Germans secured there will be flushed out, giving the Americans and Freedom Fighters a chance to turn the tide of the war.

This is much more than a war story.  It is about loyalty, compassion, understanding and support.  It is about working hard to save the lives of people you will never know.  This book demonstrates the strength in a team.  The story shows that no matter how crummy one life seems, there is always another worse off.  It is about believing in something bigger than yourself and doing what is right—even if it seems small and inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

Phantoms gives the reader a glimpse of a unique group of soldiers.  Not only were these men instrumental in gaining ground during World War II, they came home to give something surprising back to their own country.  Phantoms, with their crazy passion, helped to make skiing a remarkably popular recreational activity.  They are responsible the for well-known ski resorts in Vail and Aspen.  A backcountry trail system between the two was created to honor the Tenth Mountain Division.

These men are unsung heroes.  This makes me sad.  Everyone should know about the men that trained in frigid, inhospitable conditions to quietly slip under the radar and do what no others soldiers have done.  Ms. Duble’s book is the perfect place to start.  While her characters are not necessarily based on specific Phantoms, the events are factual, the tale gripping.

Please, let’s finally give these men the recognition they deserve.  Give this book to students studying World War II, they will thank you, I promise.  Find your ski-fanatic buds and give them a copy of this book.  Who knows what these ski-bums would be into if not for the Phantoms?

To the men of the Tenth Mountain Division: thank you, I am forever grateful to you.

Reviewed by jv poore, June 2013.

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Why We Took the CarWhy We Took The Car
Wolfgang Herrndorf
Translated by Tim Mohr
Arthur A. Levine Books, January 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-48180-9
Hardcover

Outwardly, I tout “girl power”.  I tell my nieces, and other young ladies, that girls can do anything that boys can do.  There is equality.  In truth though, I’ve always been a bit jealous of boys.  Growing up, it seemed that boys just had it easier, specifically in their friendships.  Guys appear to be so comfortable with one another, in a very real way.  Buddies may disagree, argue, and even throw down; but, at the end of the day, the rapport is still strong.  I don’t know how realistic my vision of “boys being boys” really is, but Why We Took the Car gives me hope that I was spot-on.

An unlikely friendship, a stolen jalopy and an impromptu road trip made for an exciting tale.  At a blush, Mike & Tschick could not be more different.  Tschick, poor, with no discernible adult supervision, whose young life has been filled with alcohol and petty crime, appears to enjoy being alone.  Mike, on the opposite end of the spectrum, outwardly has it all.  An outsider peering in would see a rich kid, with both parents tucked cozily beneath one very fancy roof.  Looks are often deceiving.

Mike was more than surprised when bad boy Tschick tries to befriend him, largely because Mike sports a really cool thrift-store jacket, styling a white dragon across the chest.  Feigning disinterest does not deter Tschick; he is relentless.  Without understanding exactly why, Mike stops ignoring him and a tentative foundation for solidarity begins to take shape.

Before he can fully comprehend and digest the potential repercussions; Mike amazes himself by agreeing to a “vacation” with his new pal.  Prepared with only a vague plan, a stolen car and a few bucks; the young criminals begin their adventure.

Their road trip is packed with colourful characters, mini adventures, and a gradual growth of genuine fondness between the boys.  While the encounters are exciting, intriguing and fun; they weren’t my absolute favourite part of the story.  Rather, the subtle message that sometimes, the people you choose to love are more important than the ones you are expected to love; resonated with me.  Almost as importantly, my ideal “boy friendship” was cemented as the implausible companions slowly reveal secrets truths of challenging lives.  Their new bond never breaks, it only grows stronger.

This distinctive book was an enjoyable read on a couple of levels.  The writing is powerful; when I first started this book, I found myself reading very quickly, because I felt like Mike was talking very fast.  It is always delightfully surprising when a book sets my reading pace.   A fabulous plot complete with unique characters and raw emotion make this a book that I will highly recommend, and in fact, I’m sure it will be one that I read again.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2013.

Book Reviews: The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen and Don’t Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon

The False PrinceThe False Prince
The Ascendance Trilogy, Book One
Jennifer A. Nielsen
Scholastic Press, March 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-28414-1
Trade Paperback

The King of Carthya has many enemies.  Some dislike his way of ruling, while others simply want the chance to push their own agendas.  Many in his court detest him for sending away his youngest son, Prince Jaron. No one would argue with the fact that the 10-year old was strong-willed, mischievous, opinionated and completely improper; but he was adored for his spirit.  Immediately upon being sent away, it was said that pirates attacked his ship, Prince Jaron had been killed.  While all of the evidence was there, the boy’s body had not been found in the five years that have passed.

Bevin Conner, serving as one of the king’s twenty regents, wants the king ousted because he believes that the king will not be strong enough to defend the country, and war is imminent.   He learns of the rumour that the King, his Queen, and Jaron’s older brother, the Crown Prince, have been murdered.  Upon gaining this information, he sets out to several orphanages looking for boys that may resemble Jaron as he would look today.  Conner chooses four boys he plans to groom to impersonate the Prince, who will later serve as his puppet in gratitude for being removed from the orphanage.  Obviously, only one boy will be chosen at the end of the two-week training.

The False Prince is intended for the Middle Grade genre (ages 10 – 14).  I can’t imagine a more enticing book for that age group.  The tale is filled with entertaining characters and tons of twists and turns.  It is quite suspenseful and engaging.  While it tells a fascinating and captivating story, there is another layer.  There are characters that are evil to the core, but appear to be looking out for the best interest of the kingdom.    The orphans are unique, and their interactions compelling.  It is clear that they are in a competition, the reader is challenged in determining when, if at all, there is sincerity or camaraderie among them.  Truth and lies are intertwined, promises are made and broken, trickery and sabotage occur frequently; making this a fast-paced story that this reader could not put down (despite being well outside of the intended audience).  It is written in both first and third person, giving the reader different views of each character.  For me, it shows by example, that no matter how insubordinate, flippant and arrogant a person may appear, there could be a heart of gold that can be seen when looking past the apparent character flaws.

This is the first book in the Ascendance Trilogy.  While I have tons more praise to share, I also have the second book in the series, The Runaway King, sitting in front of me begging to be read.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2013.

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Don't Breathe a WordDon’t Breathe a Word
Jennifer McMahon
Harper, May 2011
ISBN 978-0-06-168937-6
Trade Paperback

I don’t always know what I want when searching for a creepy, scary book.  Two things terrify me, faeries and psychotic minds.  Naturally, I love Don’t Breathe a Word, because this book features both.  Well, at least ONE of those things.  Maybe the two aren’t mutually exclusive.  Maybe they are so intertwined that it is nearly impossible to know which came first.

In many a review, I have used the word “haunting”.  I always meant it.  At the time, whatever I was referring to (the entire book or a passage), indeed felt “haunting” to me.  This book, however, epitomizes the true definition of the word.  The story didn’t pull me in, rather it catapulted into me.  I was captured.  I became invested.  The tale stayed in my mind, like a catchy tune…..admittedly a creepy, terrifying tune; but unshakeable nonetheless.

Ms. McMahon has done amazing things here.  I can give you a Book Review in the rawest sense, I don’t even have to delve into a summary or allude to the plot in order to entice you.

For starters, if this book should ever be made into a film, I will not see it.  The depth and richness of the characters is such that I feel as if I know Bee, Sam and Evie.  I sympathize, support and struggle to understand them.  I accept the flaws that Ms. McMahon has given them and embrace the goodness, even when buried deeply inside of someone.  I won’t have my images spoiled.

The intricacies of the characters’ pasts create and support the strong, unique personalities in this novel.  Of course, spectacular characters can’t carry a book, and there is certainly no attempt to do so here.  Instead, as Bee’s drama unfolds, the reader is kept guessing.  There is more than one mystery to be solved here, but the book won’t be categorized that simply.  Life lessons are learned, heart-wrenching decisions need to be made and loyalties are forcibly tested.  Trust is established and broken.   Inexplicable events in the past become decipherable, yet they become no easier to understand or accept.  Supposed answers only lead to more questions, until there is really only one question remaining.  What is real, and what is not.

Rarely do I find a book that, to me, has everything.  Don’t Breathe a Word does have everything I hope for in an amazing book, yet I’ve read nothing like it before.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2013.

Book Review: The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Drowned CitiesThe Drowned Cities
Paolo Bacigalupi
Little, Brown and Company, May 2012
ISBN: 978-0-316-20261-9
Ebook
Also available in print editions

Mahlia is just another casualty of war. Left behind by her Peacekeeper father and alone since the death of her mother she has to make do with only one hand. The other taken from her by warring factions. Her only friend, Mouse, is her one source of comfort until the day they find the half-man. Now, she has to make the hard decisions by herself if she has any chance of getting Mouse back and stop him becoming yet another war maggot in this never-ending war. Will they make it out of the Drowned City alive?

This is another title following up from Bacigalupi’s prize winning Shipbreaker set in a future world where cities have been flooded and society has taken a big step backwards. The main character, Mahlia, is a feisty teenager who has been taken in by a kindly doctor and is trying to live as best she can. But it’s hard when everyone looks on her as a bad curse, something to be cast out and thrown away. Her hasty actions have caused untold damage and now she battles to save her friend from the United Patriot Front who have recruited him by force. Only she knows how to get into the Drowned Cities and somehow, this half-man is willing to follow her there. After all, he has unfinished business there.

This is another well written book with a great storyline. After reading Shipbreaker and enjoying it, this title looks at life within a city that is now underwater and where civil unrest is rife. The story follows Mahlia and Mouse respectively with a fantastic pace and great level of detail until the point of convergence where everything just explodes in action, drama and intensity. Yet again, Bacigalupi has written and developed characters that have depth, history and who appeal to the reader. I’m now interested to find out if any further titles in the series will begin to cross over to create one large story-arc since I think this is a format that would certainly work. One to recommend, especially to teenage readers.

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, April 2013.