Sunday, August 24, 2014

Blade of the Samurai by Susan Spann

In this second installment in the Shinobi Mystery series, Matsui Hiro and Father Mateo return to try and find the killer of one of the shogun’s chief samurai. Set inside the shogun’s mansion and grounds, the story features murder, political intrigue, and romance within another mental trip to medieval Japan for the reader. This book is just as entertaining and interesting as the first in the series and once again, we get an authentic glimpse into the life and culture of 16th century Japan.

My only disappointment with this series is that the next isn’t due out until 2015, of course. I highly recommend this to historical mystery fans especially those that have enjoyed the Sano Ichiro series by Laura Joh Rowland.

Book Review: Claws of the Cat (Shinobi Mystery, #1) by Susan Spann

Claws of the Cat (Shinobi Mystery, #1)Claws of the Cat by Susan Spann
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent Japanese historical mystery perfect for fans of Laura Joh Rowland’s Sano Ichiro series!

When one of Father Mateo’s congregation, a lovely young entertainer in a geisha house, is accused of the murder of one of its samurai patrons, Matsui Hiro, Father Mateo’s Japanese translator/bodyguard (and undercover shinobi or ninja) lends his skills to find the real killer. The murdered man’s son gives the pair three days to discover the murderer or face death as part of the son’s traditional revenge.

This is a great mystery set in 16th-century Japan, and you can almost feel, hear, and smell the setting and live the story right along with the wonderful lead characters, Hiro and Father Mateo. The story is also sprinkled with memorable supporting characters such as Ana, the curmudgeonly housekeeper, and Luis, the Portuguese merchant and guest in Father Mateo’s home.

The story is filled with authentic-sounding and feeling details, and the author certainly has the chops to assure you of their genuine nature. This was a fabulous reading experience; I feel like I just returned from a trip to medieval Japan, and I was absolutely immersed in the story. I highly recommend this to historical mystery fans, especially those who enjoyed the Sano Ichiro series by Laura Joh Rowland.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Girls from Alcyone by Cary Caffrey

Like many other children in this bleak, future America, Sigrid is sold into indentureship to pay off the debts incurred by her parents to the Kimura Corporation. However, Sigrid’s got something in her genetic makeup that makes her and other girls like her “special.” She is sent to The Kimura Academy For Girls on the planet Alcyone to be educated, physically trained, and surgically enhanced. Sigrid and the other girls are a successful experiment that other corporations are willing to steal, kidnap, and kill to get their hands on.

Cary Caffrey has created a dark, moody future world where corporations truly rule everything. The story of the special girls growing up away from their families is a sad one. The 21 girls form alliances among themselves with the typical “mean girls” and their followers, and Sigrid, the youngest and weakest, is at the bottom of the pack. Tormented, Sigrid is ostrasized from the larger group until she is befriended by the stronger, popular Suko. Under Suko’s protection, Sigrid is able to mature and grow and develop into one of the most accomplished of the group. The relationship between Sigrid and Suko eventually develops into one of a romantic and sexual nature but they are parted while still attempting to sort out their feelings for each other.

As their training comes to a close, the girls begin to receive their “contracts,” their assignments where they will work and begin to repay the debts their parents racked up even before the girls were born. Some are sent to Kimura operations, others to the naval service until their very existence is threatened by the Council for Trade & Finance, the governing council of the Federation of Commercial Enterprise. Called “abominations,” the council wants all the girls turned over to them to be used for their own mysterious purposes.

There is a bit of the geek fantasy about the novel with young girls achieving mental and physical perfections and skill levels in fighting hand-to-hand, flying planes, and operating any weaponry under the sun (as well as the aforementioned girl-with-girl romance.) It is a fun and entertaining tale that I would recommend if you’re in the mood for a fun, light, entertaining space story. I probably would not recommend it for the younger, young adult fans because of the few scenes of a sexual nature. This is the first in a series (The Girls from Alcyone series). Book 2 is already released and titled The Machines of Bellatrix. I'll probably be picking that one up soon.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Annihilation of Foreverland - A young adult novel with a dose of horror!

Author Tony Bertauski has created a paradise of an island in the south Atlantic Ocean where adolescent and teenage boys roam, fish, play state-of-the-art video games, anything they want to their heart’s content, except leave. Each is watched over, coached and guided by an elderly man of dubious health known as an “investor.” Every couple of weeks the boys are herded into “The Haystack,” a building that is the gateway to “Foreverland” where every impossible dream can come true but not without its price.

The Annihilation of Foreverland is told through the eyes of multiple characters but mainly by Danny Boy, whom we first encounter as he wakes up on the island devoid of any memory of his past. In fact, none of the boys remember who they are or where they came from. Another viewpoint is that of Reed, an older boy who has steadfastly refused to succumb to the promise of “Foreverland.” Finally, we get insight from the mysterious island owner known only as “The Director.” The old men or “investors” vary from supposedly kindly and caring to downright creepy and cruel. There is a psychotic bully among the boys which adds more tension. The characters and their pasts are gradually revealed over the course of the novel. The suspense and horror grows until we have a satisfyingly full picture of each.

The storyline is a unique one in which technology, privilege, money, and power all combine for an exciting, thought-provoking, ethics-challenging tale. The author added exquisitely creepy little details that absolutely made my skin crawl. These small details added a whole other level of “eww” to the story. Thankfully, the villains get their “just desserts” and we can leave the island with the knowledge that things are going to work out right. With a marvelous setting, interesting characters, and nice plot revelations, I recommend this to the young adult readers that like theirs with a good dose of horror.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Excellent for home or in the classroom!

The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High by Roseanne Cheng is a fun, yet thought-provoking novel for the middle school years. The author builds her story around the timely topic of the growing practice of commercial sponsorships (and financial support) of public spaces, in this case, a junior high school. As the story unfolds, it reveals both the positive and negative aspects of the impact that such sponsorship and product placement has on the school in a manner that is easy to read, understand, and enjoy.

The pre-teen protagonists, Andrew, Hannah, and Jackson, are highly likeable characters and act true to age. The setting, situations, and the interactions between the characters felt genuine and actually took me back to my own junior high experiences. It felt that real.

The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High not only delves into the issue of commercial sponsorship but addresses the everyday problems of being a kid and growing up. There is suspense and mystery. Who is the mysterious new student, Liam, and what’s he up to? Will Andrew get the girl? Will Andrew and Jackson resolve their problems and become true friends?

I think that this book would be enjoyed by young readers, the middle school crowd, and parents reading along with their children. The author's writing is clear and simple for the younger folks and interesting enough to hold the attention of adults. Additionally, it would be a great classroom tool, and to that end, the author has included a study guide at the end of the book with specific activities designated for each chapter as the story unfolds.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Second Chance at Life

After 103 excruciating days in the hospital recuperating from a botched suicide attempt, Ryan Farnsworth returns home to pick up the pieces of his life. However, the car wreck that almost killed him successfully robbed him of his memory: of his family, his friends, his past, everything. Erased, by Margaret Chatwin, is the excellent telling of Ryan’s second chance at life, his discovery of who he was and his desire to become someone better.

As the story unfolds, we slowly get glimpses of what kind of person Ryan was and what kind of life he led. We see the vestiges of his past relationships with his family and his friends and how they attempt to pick up where they left off although Ryan has undergone more changes than just those that physically apparent. Ryan tries to make the most of his chance to makeover a life that he had obviously found more painful than death.

Chatwin has created some memorable characters and memorable scenes as if she’d been a witness to their happening. The interactions and dialogue seem genuine, and the eventual resolution of the story is quite satisfyingly real. Ryan’s ultimate confrontation and confession to his father is emotionally tough.

Erased is a great story with good characters, and well worth the experience of reading. There are some consistent grammar and word choice problems that keep me from giving the novel a higher rating but there is nothing that a competent editor wouldn’t easily repair.