Friday, December 4, 2015

Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse

Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
  • ISBN-10: 0316260606 - Hardcover$17.99
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (April 5, 2016), 320 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

The blurb:
Amsterdam, 1943. Hanneke spends her days procuring and delivering sought-after black market goods to paying customers, her nights hiding the true nature of her work from her concerned parents, and every waking moment mourning her boyfriend, who was killed on the Dutch front lines when the Germans invaded. She likes to think of her illegal work as a small act of rebellion.

On a routine delivery, a client asks Hanneke for help. Expecting to hear that Mrs. Janssen wants meat or kerosene, Hanneke is shocked by the older woman's frantic plea to find a person--a Jewish teenager Mrs. Janssen had been hiding, who has vanished without a trace from a secret room. Hanneke initially wants nothing to do with such dangerous work, but is ultimately drawn into a web of mysteries and stunning revelations that lead her into the heart of the resistance, open her eyes to the horrors of the Nazi war machine, and compel her to take desperate action.

Hanneke looks like a poster girl for the Nazi party with her long limbs, blonde hair, clear skin, and good health.  Hanneke isn't a member of the Nazi party nor a Nazi sympathizer, when the story begins  her rebellion is limited to serving as a courier and procurer in Amsterdam's black market.   She works her job at the funeral home and continues with her deliveries; she knows she isn't part of the resistance, but sees her blackmarket work as subverting Nazi rules.   She's in mourning for the loss of her boyfriend who died fighting the German advance.

When one of her best customers asks her to search for a missing girl, Hanneke's first reaction is to refuse.  Searching for a missing Jewish girl while under Nazi occupation is a huge step from finding sausages and cigarettes, but Hanneke begins to care for about the missing fifteen-year-old.  Hanneke reaches out to friends and gets her first exposure to the Resistance and learns more about the dirty secrets of the occupation.  Hanneke finds it harder and harder to keep her old life together. 

Monica Hesse drew me into the story of Hanneke and her life under Nazi rule.  She gives us a glimpse into Amsterdam and the constraints that the Dutch faced.  When Hesse tells the story of the collaborators and the Resistance, she does it from the point of view of a practical, sympathetic, charismatic fifteen-year-old girl, Hesse makes this horrible time in history come alive in clear detail. Girl in the Blue Coat is a  lovely read!

About the Author:
Monica Hesse is a features writer at The Washington Post, where she writes widely-shared longform pieces and has covered royal weddings, dog shows, political campaigns, and White House state dinners. Monica has talked about those stories and others on NBC, MSNBC, CNN, CSPAN, FOX, and NPR. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband and their dog.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Audacity Jones to the Rescue by Kirby Larson

Audacity Jones to the Rescue by Kirby Larson
Ages 8-12 years. Grade Level 3-7.
  • ISBN-10: 0545840562 - Hardcover $
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press (January 26, 2016), 224 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

The blurb:
Audacity Jones is an eleven-year-old orphan who aches for adventure, a challenge to break up the monotony of her life at Miss Maisie's School for Wayward Girls. Life as a wayward girl isn't so bad; Audie has the best of friends, a clever cat companion, and plenty of books to read. Still, she longs for some excitement, like the characters in the novels she so loves encounter.

So when the mysterious Commodore Crutchfield visits the school and whisks Audie off to Washington, DC, she knows she's in for the journey of a lifetime. But soon, it becomes clear that the Commodore has unsavory plans for Audie -- plans that involve the president of the United States and a sinister kidnapping plot. Before she knows it, Audie winds up in the White House kitchens, where she's determined to stop the Commodore dead in his tracks. Can Audie save the day before it's too late?

Audacity Jones ("Audie") adjusted well to life at Miss Maisie's School for Wayward Girls.  Miss Maisie founded the school after being left orphaned and with a large fortune and her unorthodox method of raising girls includes a lack of emphasis on academics.  Audie regularly finds herself subject to discipline and is locked in the Punishment Room regularly.  But Miss Maisie's Punishment Room is her father's former library and a place of sanctuary and escape for Audie. 

When the Commodore, a public official and donor to Miss Maisie's School, comes seeking a volunteer for a dangerous mission, he ends up leaving with eleven-year-old Audacity Jones.  Her assignment takes her to the White House under President William Howard Taft.  While Audie finds some suspicious behavior, she's not sure what might be afoot.  During the time of her White House visit, there are two Taft children at the White House: Taft's niece Dorothy and Charlie Taft.  Audie makes an impression on the two youngsters but it's her old friends from Miss Maisie's Home for Wayward Girls that come forward to help Audie save the day.

An adventure story and historical fiction, Kirby Larson gives us a fun new series with Audacity Jones to the Rescue.

About the Author:
Kirby Larson is the acclaimed author of the 2007 Newbery Honor book Hattie Big Sky; its sequel, Hattie Ever AfterThe Friendship DollDear America: The Fences Between UsDuke; and Dash. She has also written a number of picture books, including the award-winning Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival and Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine, and a Miracle. She lives in Washington with her husband.

Real Tigers by Mick Herron

Real Tigers by Mick Herron
  • ISBN-10: 1616956127 - Hardcover $26.95
  • Publisher: Soho Crime (January 19, 2016), 352 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

The blurb:
London's Slough House is where disgraced MI5 operatives are reassigned to spend the rest of their spy careers pushing paper.  But when one of these "slow horses" is kidnapped by a former soldier bent on revenge, the agents must breach the defenses of Regent's Park to steal valuable intel in exchange for their comrade's safety.  The kidnapping is only the tip of the iceberg, however, as the agents uncover a larger web of intrigue that involves not only a group of private mercenaries but also the highest authorities in the Security Services.  After years spent as the lowest on the totem pole, the slow horses suddenly find themselves caught in the midst of a conspiracy that threatens not only the future of Slough House, but of MI5 itself.

I'm new to the Slough House series, Real Tigers was my first exposure to Slough House and its operatives, but I enjoy espionage novels and thrillers.

Set in present day London, Real Tigers focuses on the operatives of Slough House the day that one of their own is kidnapped by a private security firm. It's not clear why Catherine is taken as she doesn't deal with confidential information or active files. The entire group of Slough House is relegated to projects that no one is interested in and have little actual intelligence value. Their members are MI5 operatives who can't be dismissed but are being bored/worked until they're ready to quit. The members are each aware of their fall from grace and carry their penance in different ways. Catherine's capture brings Slough House together as the members work to bring her home, tapping into skills long left dormant. Jackson Lamb leads Slough House which is staffed with recovering alcoholic Catherine Standish, Marcus Longworth who is a gambler but the only one of the group with strong fighting skills, Rodney Ho who is an obnoxious computer hacker/genius, drug dependent and equally obnoxious Shirley, gorgeous Louisa recovering from the loss of her partner, and River Cartwright whose last disastrous operation still haunts him.

Real Tigers delivers political intrigue, espionage, and excitement as the Slough House team work together facing plots within plots.

About the Author:
Mick Herron was born in Newcastle and has a degree in English from Balliol College, Oxford.  He is the author of eight other novels, Down Cemetery Road, The Last Voice You'll Hear, Why We Die, Smoke and Whispers, Reconstruction, Slow Horses, Dead Lions, and Nobody Walks, as well as the novella The List.  His work has been nominated for the Macavity, Barry and Shamus Awards, and he won the Gold Dagger for Best Crime Novel.  He lives in Oxford and works in London.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Beatriz Williams & Lauren Willig

The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Beatriz Williams &  Lauren Willig
  • ISBN-10: 0451474627 - Hardcover
  • Publisher: NAL (January 19, 2016), 384 pages.  
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewer program. 

The blurb:
1945: When the critically wounded Captain Cooper Ravenal is brought to a private hospital on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, young Dr. Kate Schuyler is drawn into a complex mystery that connects three generations of women in her family to a single extraordinary room in a Gilded Age mansion.

Who is the woman in Captain Ravenel's portrait miniature who looks so much like Kate?  And why is she wearing the ruby pendant handed down to Kate by her mother?  In their pursuit of answers, they find themselves drawn into the turbulent stories of Gilded Age Olive Van Alen, driven from riches to rags, who hired out as a servant in the very house her father designed, and Jazz Age Lucy Young, who came from Brooklyn to Manhattan in pursuit of the father she had never known.  But are Kate and Cooper ready for the secrets that will be revealed in the Forgotten Room? 

The Forgotten Room, set in alternating time periods, is a sumptuous feast of a novel brought to vivid life by three brilliant storytellers.


If you were to ask who might like The Forgotten Room, I'd mainly recommend it to other women who enjoy historical fiction and love stories. The novel follows the stories of three women who live very different lives in the Pratt Mansion on the Upper East Side of Manhattan: Olive Van Alan who works in service to the Pratt family during the Gilded Age (1890s); Lucy Young who takes a job in a law firm in Manhattan in the 1920s and resides at the women's only residence, Stornaway House; and Dr. Kate Schuyler (1940s), a young woman doctor treating US servicemen during World War II at Stornaway Hospital in New York City.

It is not clear that what ties the women together nor how the men that they are drawn to share a tie to the Pratt Mansion, the uncertainty and mystery continues throughout the novel. The complicated histories, the unusual love stories and the obstacles that each of the women face are skillfully intertwined and result in an unusual mix of love stories. I thoroughly enjoyed The Forgotten Room even as I was trying to decipher the clues that the authors skillfully embedded.

About the Authors:

Karen White is the New York Times bestselling author of The Sound of GlassA Long Time Gone, and The Time Between, among other novels.

Beatriz Williams is the New York Times bestselling author of The Secret Life of Violet Grant, A Hundred Summers, and Overseas.

Lauren Willig is the New York Times bestselling author of The Lure of the MoonflowerThat Summer, and The Other Daughter, among other novels.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Becoming a U.S. Citizen: A Guide to the Law, Exam, & Interview by Ilona Bray (NOLO) and Project Citizenship (Boston)

Finally, I've been a permanent resident for five years and can apply for naturalization.  Friends and family members that have undergone the naturalization process have told me that this last leg is easier than the process of getting permanent residency.  While I used an immigration lawyer for the conversion of my working visa to that of a dependent spouse with a working visa and my husband and I hired an immigration lawyer to help us obtain our permanent residency, we have decided to apply for naturalization directly.  

I checked the USCIS website, reviewed the instructions for the N-400 form, and checked my local library for the NOLO book that might help guide us through the process.  Fortunately, the 2014 version of Ilona Bray's Becoming a U.S. Citizen: A Guide to the Law, Exam & Interview was readily available.  Going through the book gave me more certainty and confidence as I prepared our application.

Becoming a U.S. Citizen: A Guide to the Law, Exam & Interview by Ilona Bray
ISBN-13: 978-1413320633 - Paperback $29.99

  • Publisher: NOLO; Seventh edition (September 30, 2014), 352 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The blurb:
For a green card holder, taking the next step to U.S. citizenship offers a host of benefits.  But the application process itself can be long and confusing.  With Becoming a U.S. Citizen, you can save months or even years.  Best of all, you'll know that you are taking each needed step in the most efficient way.

Learn how to:
Make sure that you're eligible for citizenship
Understand the risks and rewards of applying
Fill out application forms
Study for the citizenship exam
Interview successfully
Deal with any setbacks

Becoming a U.S. Citizen also shows you how to take advantage of special benefits and procedures if you have a disability, are in the military or are the spouse of a U.S. citizen.

We're preparing to apply for citizenship and I'd read this book after having filled out the forms.  I fully expected to have to prepare a draft version of our application, review and revise it as needed.  I worried that I would spend too much time reviewing and revising -- weeks or months -- out of fear of making a mistake.

I found Ilona Bray's straightforward description of the process and pitfalls helpful particularly because she offers a practitioner's practical advice.  I've read other reviewers mention that you can get the same advice elsewhere, but since my own sources were limited to the instructions on how to fill out the N-400 form and Ilona Bray's book, I was relieved to find the information organized and readily available in an easy to find format.

As we opted not to hire an attorney to review our application, I wanted more than the government website and instructions to help guide me through the application and waiting process.

If you have possible issues with your application, you'll need to discuss the specifics with an attorney. But if you meet all the requirements and just want to make sure that your application is filed completely and that the process goes smoothly, Becoming a U.S. Citizen is worth reading, keeping on hand, and referring to throughout the process. I found several tips and suggestions that have helped me in preparing my  N-400 application. The tips are the sort that an immigration law practitioner might give you but fortunately without spending several thousands of dollars on an immigration lawyer.  

I was fortunate enough to attend a Project Citizenship workshop at Goodwin Proctor LLP while in Boston last week.  They were able to answer questions that I came across after reading Becoming a U.S. Citizen and trying to fill out the application.  These small questions had me stymied and I wasn't confident that I was finding the right answers on the internet.  I won't go into all of them, particularly since my application is still pending.  But here are a few of the items that they helped me with:
  • I couldn't figure out why the application's barcode populating when I filled out the N-400 form using Adobe on my MacBook.  I tried different browsers, but none of them worked.  But if you use PC, you'll avoid this problem.
  • My first name is so long that I can't type it all in the box provided.  The Project Citizenship volunteers/experts had me just write in that portion.  Simple straightforward fix, but I had been worried about this.
  • I was worried about the periods that I hadn't worked.  I had been busy volunteering and working for our family but hadn't been paid.  Becoming a U.S. Citizen advises answering "unemployed but performed paid work" but I wasn't certain how to describe the work.  The Project Citizenship volunteers/experts first reassured me that the periods of unemployment do not count against one's application -- this was a huge relief and helped me move forward preparing my application.  They also helped me describe the unpaid work briefly. 
It made a huge difference to have two lawyers review the draft N-400 application and prepare my application.  Another attorney and a Project Citizenship expert further reviewed the application for quality control before they considered it ready to submit to USCIS.  The Project Citizenship workshop took around 3 hours and I left with a certainty that my application was ready for submission and examination.  

About the Author:
Ilona Bray began practicing immigration law because of her concern with international human rights issues.  She is the author of Fiance & Marriage Visas and U.S. Immigration Made Easy, both published by NOLO.

Friday, November 20, 2015

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
  • ISBN-10: 1400067693 - Hardcover $26.00
  • Publisher: Random House (January 12, 2016), 208 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

The blurb:
Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. Gentle gossip about people from Lucy’s childhood in Amgash, Illinois, seems to reconnect them, but just below the surface lie the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of Lucy’s life: her escape from her troubled family, her desire to become a writer, her marriage, her love for her two daughters. 

My Name is Lucy Barton is largely set in New York in the 1980s. Lucy tells us her story in an unflinchingly honest way. Lucy's born in a family that stands out--not in a good way--in their small rural town. Lucy is different from her siblings and parents, and she makes her way to college and eventually to NYC.  Her family sees her escape as a declaration of her repudiation of them and they hold it against her.

But the transition to her new life isn't easy for Lucy. She finds that her old life clings to her in ways that she hadn't expected and the difference rears its head unexpectedly, even years after she's made a life for herself.  But Lucy has decided to become a writer and she works at it. She tells the story of her journey as a writer and of her life in those years when her children were young. As we learn the story of her family, of her marriage and of her life as a writer, she comes very much alive.

About the Author:
Elizabeth Strout is the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Olive Kitteridge, as well as The Burgess Boys, a New York Times bestseller; Abide with Me, a national bestseller and Book Sense pick; and Amy and Isabelle, which won the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize. She has also been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in England. Her short stories have been published in a number of magazines, including The New Yorker and O: The Oprah Magazine. Elizabeth Strout lives in New York City.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Restoration of Otto Laird by Nigel Packer

The Restoration of Otto Laird by Nigel Packer
  • ISBN-10: 1250071542 - Hardcover $25.99
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (November 24, 2015), 352 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Program.

The blurb:
Retired architect Otto Laird is living a peaceful, if slightly bemused, existence in Switzerland with his second wife, Anika.  Once renowned for his radical designs, Otto now spends his days communing with nature and writing eccentric letters to old friends (which he doesn't mail).  But Otto's comfortable life is rudely interrupted when he learns that his most significant and revolutionary building, Marlowe House, a 1960s tower block estate in South London, is set to be demolished.

Otto is outraged.  Determined to do everything in his power to save the building, he reluctantly agrees to take part in the television documentary, which will mean returning to London for the first time in 25 years to live for a week in Marlowe House.  Once Otto becomes reacquainted with the city he called home for most of his life, his memories begin to come alive.  And as he mines his past and considers life moving forward -- for him and his building -- Otto embarks on a remarkable journey that will change everything he ever thought he knew.

Otto Laird, a retired architect living in Switzerland with his second wife, learns that Marlowe House is about to be torn down. Otto had worked on Marlowe House with his talented wife and partner Cynthia and at the time of its construction it had been an iconic building. Unfortunately, it had not acquired landmark status while its partner building which is located in a posher area of London is landmarked. In an attempt to save Marlowe House, Otto is asked to return to London to be interviewed and to spend a few days living in his old creation.

Otto himself has aged considerably, it's uncertain whether he's up for the scrutiny and the exhausting trip. But he travels to London and the experience leads him to revisit his old life. We learn about the young Otto who survived World War II living in a dark, cramped basement keeping deathly quiet. His love for light, open spaces and his reticence are partly tied to those years. We learn what Otto learns to overcome as he moves from a talented but reclusive architecture scholarship student to one of the brilliant young men of his generation, of how Otto and Cynthia met and fell in love, built a practice, grew apart and found their way back, of the history of Otto and Daniel's rocky relationship, and of how London and its spaces played a part in Otto's life.

The Restoration of Otto Laird is a book about growing into one's self, growing up, growing old - how time impacts the people and the spaces around us. I'm fascinated by architecture and buildings and Otto reminded me in part of my old grandfather, a civil engineer whose buildings are beginning to disappear. I loved The Restoration of Otto Laird - the story and Nigel Packer's writing stayed with me long after I'd finished the book.

About the Author:
Nigel Packer is a former journalist, whose eclectic writing career spanned music reviews for the BBC to a reporting officer at the International Committee for the Red Cross.  He received his BA in Archeology form the University of York and an MA from Leiden University.  Nigel lives in London and this is his first novel.  

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra (A Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation) by Vaseem Khan

Series: A Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation (Book 1)
  • ISBN-10: 0316386820 - Paperback $15
  • Publisher: Redhook (September 15, 2015),  320 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

The blurb:
The first is the case of a drowned boy, whose suspicious death no one seems to want solved. And the second is a baby elephant.

As his search for clues takes him across the teeming city of Mumbai, from its grand high rises to its sprawling slums and deep into its murky underworld, Chopra begins to suspect that there may be a great deal more to both his last case and his new ward than he thought.

And he soon learns that when the going gets tough, a determined elephant may be exactly what an honest man needs...

I'm fond of mysteries and detective stories set in unusual places and times, so I was happy to stumble upon The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra. Naseem Khan doesn't focus on the crime as much as the personalities of Inspector Chopra, his lovely wife Poppy, the baby elephant Ganesh, and Inspector Chopra's colleagues on the Mumbai Police Force. If you're a fan of cozies set in unusual places, you'll likely be charmed. Inspector Chopra is a stickler for the rules and is surprisingly uncorrupted even after decades of working on the police force. His retirement leaves him a little lost, but he's kept busy with caring for the baby elephant and trying to keep his promise to the parents of a young boy who died a suspicious death. Baby Ganesh gives the story an added complexity and level of fun -- who doesn't enjoy reading about young elephants and their care. As Inspector Chopra follows leads that take him to various Mumbai neighborhoods we peek into unusual neighborhoods. I found The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra a fun cozies and a great start to a new mystery series. Looking forward to reading the next one by Vaseem Khan.

About the Author:
Vaseem Khan first saw an elephant lumbering down the middle of the road in 1997 when he arrived in India to work as a consultant. It was the most unusual thing he'd ever encountered and served as the inspiration behind his series of crime novels.

He returned to the UK in 2006 and now works at University College London for the Department of Security and Crime Science where he is astonished daily by the way modern science is being employed to tackle crime.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Sword of Honor by David Kirk

  • ISBN-10: 0385536658 - Hardcover $26.95
  • Publisher: Doubleday (November 3, 2015), 464 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

The blurb:
Having survived the cataclysmic battle of Sekigahara, which established the mighty Tokugawa Shogunate, young Musashi Miyamoto travels through Japan determined to proclaim his revolutionary epiphany that the "way of the sword" -- the ancient code that binds samurai to their masters -- needs to be abolished.

But during the battle Musashi insulted an adept of the powerful Yoshioka school, and a price has been put on his head.  Musashi travels to Kyoto, domain of the Yoshioka, for a reckoning.  He has taken up with Ameku, a beautiful blind woman branded as a witch; his burgeoning love for her will make him vulnerable.

Musashi intends to deal a crushing blow to the traditional samurai dogma by destroying the Yoshioka warriors, but Musashi will learn that his spectacular gifts with the sword are no match for the cunning of powerful lords.  The wily Tokugawa governor, still struggling to establish dominance in Kyoto, sees in Musashi just the weapon he needs to overcome the rebellious Yoshioka.

Sword of Honor seamlessly blends meticulous research, mesmerizing action sequences, and a driving narrative to bring this extraordinary figure to life.

In Sword of Honor, David Kirk follows Child of Vengance and continues the story of one of Japan's greatest swordsmen,  Musashi Miyamoto.  Musashi has survived the battle of Sekigahara and has become disillusioned with the control that the lords wield over the samurai.  He subsists with a fellow survivor for years, trying to make sense of their future.

An ugly encounter forces Musashi to go forward into the world and to wield his sword again. This time, he has decided that he carries his sword for himself and not to further the goals of any samurai lord. This radical break from tradition and his obvious state as a masterless marks him as dangerous to traditional society.  He invariably draws the attention of samurai lords and the Yoshioka school warriors.  As samurai repeatedly confront him, seek to teach him humility, each encounter takes Musashi further from the traditional path and closer to his destruction.

David Kirk takes us to the time of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the political upheaval and the warring factions. We understand the expectations and culture of the samurai at that time and Musashi's need to rebel and seek his own path.  The fighting sequences are detailed and vivid.  Musashi comes alive and although it is frustrating to watch him dive into a dojo full of danger, it is hard not to respect his spirit and skill.

About the Author:
David Kirk is the author of Child of Vengance.  He grew up in Stamford, Lincolnshire, in the U.K.  He has lived in Sendai, Japan, since 2008.  Visit him at

Monday, October 26, 2015

Tightrope by Simon Mawer

  • ISBN-10: 1590517237 - Paperback $15.95
  • Publisher: Other Press (November 3, 2015), 512 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

The blurb:
As Allied forces close in on Berlin in spring 1945, a solitary figure emerges from the wreckage that is Germany.  It is Marian Sutra, whose existence was last known to her British controllers in autumn 1943 in Paris.  One of a handful of surviving agents of the Special Operations Executive, she has withstood arrest, interrogation, incarceration, and the horrors of Ravensbruck concentration camp, but at what cost?

Returned to an England she barely knows and a postwar world she doesn't understand, Marian searches for something on which to ground the rest of her life.  Family and friends surround her, but she is haunted by her experiences and by the guilt of knowing that her contribution to the war effort helped lead to the monstrosities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  When the mysterious Major Fawley, the man who hijacked her wartime mission in Paris, emerges from the shadows to draw her into the ambiguities and uncertainties of the Cold War, she sees a way to make amends for the past and at the same time to find the identity that has never been hers.

Although Tightrope is the sequel to The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, I was able to follow the story without having read the earlier book. The main character is young Marian Sutra, a half-English and half-French spy.  She's from a privileged background and quite glamorous in her own right but during World War II suffered after having worked for the French Resistance.  She'd helped key people escape from Occupied France but was betrayed, captured by the Nazis, tortured and taken to a concentration camp.  Through luck and cunning, she survived the war and was eventually returned to England.

Lost and untethered, she finds that at 24 years of age, she has little interest in returning to University but outside of her knowledge of languages and ability to kill and other wartime skills, she doesn't have much marketable skills.  Little to take her to a challenging or interesting job in peacetime.  She eventually returns to spy craft but the post war world is disappointing with the Cold War rhetoric, posturing, and the willingness of the players to return to war.

We follow Marian as she undertakes operations, but although it is easy to sympathize with Marian's problems and her affairs, I didn't find myself drawn to her as a character.  While Tightrope is an interesting read and it might not be a fair comparison, I far preferred Code Name Verity -- a daring British spy in Occupied Territory is a compelling figure--but the dangers and disappointments of the Cold War give us a very different sort of story.

About the Author:

Simon Mawer was born in 1948 in England.  His first novel, Chimera, won the McKitterick Prize for first novels in 1989.  Mendel's Dwarf (1997), his first book to be published in the US, was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and was a New York Times Book to Remember for 1998.  The Gospel of Judas, The Fall (winner of the 2003 Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature), and Swimming to Ithaca followed, as well as The Glass Room, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.  Trapeze (Other Press) was published in 2012.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Soundless by Richelle Mead

  • Age Range: 12 and up 
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • ISBN-10: 1595147632 - Hardcover $19.99
  • Publisher: Razorbill (November 10, 2015), 272 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

The blurb:
For as long as Fei can remember, there has been no sound in her village, where rocky terrain and frequent avalanches prevent residents from self-sustaining.  Fei and her people are at the mercy of a hipline that carries food up the treacherous cliffs from Beiguo, a mysterious faraway kingdom.  

When villagers begin to lose their sight, deliveries from the hipline shrink, and many go hungry.  Fei's home, the people she loves, and her entire existence are plunged into crisis, under threat of darkness and starvation.

Soundless differs from Richelle Mead's other novels in many ways. It's a fantasy novel set in ancient China instead of Western Europe or the Celtic worlds. Her heroine, Fei, lives in an isolated village at the top of the mountain where everyone is deaf. She's gifted and wins a place in the caste of artists, rising above her family's station of miners. The academy recruits Fei and is willing to take her older sister as well.

Not only is their village isolated but they're unable to grow any food. Instead, they send down the precious metals from the mines and accept whatever food is sent back up to them through the pulley "line system." Each villager's allocation of food is determined by the position that they hold and the function that they perform. The artists record the events of the day and are given high status as well as the best living conditions. The miners are among the lowest in caste and receive very little food to sustain them. Those that lose their sight are forced to beg and are on near starvation allotments.

Li Wei is Fei's old friend and love interest but he's a miner. With her elevation to apprentice artist, they do not socialize and won't be allowed to marry. The village society has very strict customs and rituals - Li Wei and Fei are barely able to sign to each other a full conversation. But Fei comes across Li Wei just as an accident reveals that when Li Wei's father is in increasing danger with his deteriorating eyesight. As things get worse for the village and for those that Fei and Li Wei's families, the two decide to undertake the dangerous climb down the mountain. Their journey leads them to discover the degree to which their village has been exploited over the years and the looming danger that they face.

Fei and Li Wei are compelling lead characters -- they don't have the brashness or assertiveness of the usual YA heroes and heroines, but Richelle Mead has crafted an adventure story that incorporates ancient Chinese mythology and Eastern culture. I loved Soundless and highly recommend it!

About the Author:
Richelle Mead is the author of the international #1 bestselling Vampire Academy series and its best selling spinoff series Bloodlines.  A lifelong reader, Richelle has always had a particular fascination with mythology and folklore.  When she can actually tear herself away from books (either reading or writing them), she enjoys reality TV, traveling, trying interesting cocktails, and shopping for dresses to wear on tour.  She is a self-professed coffee addict, works in her pajamas, and has a passion for all things wacky and humorous.  Originally from Michigan, Richelle now lives in Seattle, Washington where she is hard at work on her next novel.