Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Bamboo Sword by Margi Preus

  • Age Range: 10 - 14 years
  • ISBN-10: 1419708074 - Hardcover $16.95
  • Publisher: Amulet Books (September 15, 2015), 352 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

The blurb:
Set in 1853 in Japan, this novel follows Yoshi, a Japanese boy who dreams of someday becoming a samurai. Unfortunately, as part of the serving class, Yoshi can never become a warrior. He is taken up by Manjiro, the protagonist of Preus’s Heart of a Samurai, and becomes his servant and secret watchdog. Meanwhile, Commodore Matthew Perry and his USS Susquehanna squadron of steamships arrive in Edo Bay demanding “diplomatically” that Japan open its ports to foreign trade. Aboard the commodore’s flagship is a cabin boy, Jack, who becomes separated from his American companions while on shore. When he and Yoshi cross paths, they set out on a grand adventure to get Jack back to his ship before he is discovered by the shogun’s samurai.

I'd loved Heart of a Samurai, so I was excited to read The Bamboo Sword.  The book opens in Japan in the 1850s.  Although Nakahama Manjiro returns to Japan in The Bamboo Sword,  this time,  Its hero is thirteen-year-old Yoshi, a peasant who dreams of fighting like a samurai, who is the main protagonist.  Yoshi was orphaned and given employment by the local samurai family.  He does errands and cares for the son of the house, and as he does so, he watches their lessons in martial arts, bushido and sword play. Though Yoshi knows his position will never change, he loves practicing the sword moves with his own "bamboo sword".   Things change drastically when the barbarian sailors come to the port and his young master decides to flee.  Yoshi helps him but doesn't expect his own life to be so much worsened in the bargain.  Yoshi and his friend Jun run away to the harbor where they observe the "hairy ones" aboard their ship.

Another young hero from America is thirteen-year-old Jack Sullivan, who works as a cabin boy and a powder monkey on the Black Ship that's sailed into Japan's harbors.  Their captain and crew have gun powder and cannons and are preparing to make their mark and their fortune in the heathen East under the command of Commodore Perry.  Though the language and attitudes are historically accurate, I couldn't help but wince when they talk about killing slant-eyes, and the like.  Being Asian myself, I couldn't help hoping that they'll get their comeuppance.  

I loved The Bamboo Sword, but it is hard to share what I loved about it without revealing plot points.  It's helpful to note that much of the story is rooted in research.  So, what did I particularly enjoy?  The two boys, Yoshi and Jack, both on their own and the story of their friendship.  I appreciated how Preus masterfully wove in details about samurai weapons, armor, skills and training as well as the social and political restrictions under the political regime in Japan at the time of the Tokagawa Shogunate. The wood block prints depicting scenes of Japan, its people and the events.  The description of the Shogun's castle from the perspective of a young first time visitor.  The adventure that she gives to young Yoshi and Jack is both entertaining and plausible.  The Bamboo Sword is a keeper!

About the Author:
Margi Preus is the author of the acclaimed novels West of the MoonHeart of a Samurai, and Shadow on the Mountain. She also writes and co-writes plays, sketches, and adaptations for theater. She lives in Duluth, Minnesota.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Fixer by Joseph Finder

The blurb:
When former investigative reporter Rick Hoffman loses his job, fiancee, and apartment, his only option is to move back into -- and renovate -- the home of his miserable youth, now empty and in decay since the stroke that put his father in a nursing home.

As Rick starts to pull apart the old house, he makes an electrifying discovery -- millions of dollars hidden in the walls.  It's enough money to completely transform Rick's life -- and everything he knew about his father.  Yet the more of his father's hidden past that Rick brings to light, the more dangerous his present becomes.  Soon, he finds himself on the run from deadly enemies desperate to keep the past buried, and only solving the mystery of his father -- a man who has been unable to communicate, comprehend, or care for himself for almost twenty years -- will save Rick. . . if he can survive long enough to do it.

I'd read the short story that  Joseph Finder co-authored with Lee Child in the International Thriller Writers' collection, but this is my first time to read one of Joseph Finder's thrillers.   I was fortunate enough to listen to Lee Child and Joseph Finder discuss how they worked on the short story and their differing writing methods during ThrillerFest last year.

Finder's latest novel, The Fixer is a standalone novel.  I've spent much of my life in Boston and manage property in the Back Bay and South End, so I appreciated the details that Finder wove into the story.  The descriptions of real estate aren't just spot on, but they helped give me a sense of the different characters.  It certainly added to my enjoyment of The Fixer.

The protagonist, Rick Hoffman, goes through a great deal and his investigative skills help him solve the mystery of the unexplained cash. He takes quite a journey and I'm not sad to say that he got battered up (literally and figuratively) along the way.  To be honest, I didn't much like Rick, but the romantic subplot gives us a good sense of who Rick is.  And it made me like him even less.  Fortunately, this is a standalone and we won't be seeing much more of Rick Hoffman.

I did grow to care for Rick's father  a great deal.  The thing that I loved best about The Fixer was the masterful way that Finder introduced us to Lenny Hoffman and the way that he let drop details of Lenny's life.  The scene in the Supreme Court and the struggles that he had balancing the person/lawyer that he'd hoped to be and the lawyer that he was resonated with me.  I thoroughly enjoyed The Fixer and am looking forward to reading Joseph Finder's earlier novels - as well as what comes next!

About the Author:
Joseph Finder is the New York Times bestselling author of eleven previous novels, including Suspicion, Vanished, and Buried Secrets.  Finder's international bestseller Killer Instinct won the International Thriller Writers' Thriller Award for Best Novel of 2006.  Other bestselling titles include Paranoia and High Crimes, both of which became major motion pictures.  He lives in Boston.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Hunter by Mercedes Lackey

  • ISBN-10: 1484707842 -  Hardcover $17.99
  • Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (September 1, 2015), 384 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

The blurb:
They came after the Diseray. Some were terrors ripped from our collective imaginations, remnants of every mythology across the world. And some were like nothing anyone had ever dreamed up, even in their worst nightmares. 


Long ago, the barriers between our world and the Otherworld were ripped open, and it's taken centuries to bring back civilization in the wake of the catastrophe. Now, the luckiest Cits live in enclosed communities,behind walls that keep them safe from the hideous creatures fighting to break through. Others are not so lucky. 

To Joyeaux Charmand, who has been a Hunter in her tight-knit mountain community since she was a child, every Cit without magic deserves her protection from dangerous Othersiders. Then she is called to Apex City, where the best Hunters are kept to protect the most important people. 

Joy soon realizes that the city's powerful leaders care more about luring Cits into a false sense of security than protecting them. More and more monsters are getting through the barriers,and the close calls are becoming too frequent to ignore. Yet the Cits have no sense of how much danger they're in-to them, Joy and her corp of fellow Hunters are just action stars they watch on TV.

When an act of sabotage against Joy takes an unbearable toll, Joy uncovers a terrifying conspiracy in the city. There is something much worse than the usual monsters infiltrating Apex. And it may be too late to stop them.

Imagine that our world was deeply damaged by our own failure to care for it, that it was now inhabited by powerful magical creatures that attacked humans for the energy that is released upon death.  The living inhabitants are regulated and controlled by a central government that dictates not just where one lives but the professions available (Hunters, Military, Psychi that are able to read people's minds, as well as the standard professions that keep the world running.  Only those that perform highly valued functions are granted the right to live in the protected areas.  Salaries and benefits are all based on one's usefulness and rank in this new society.  

Our heroine Joyeaux Charmand is a young hunter who has been ordered to move to the Apex to work as a hunter.  Joy is coming from a remote mountain area where a secret and hidden monastery holds a powerful group of hunters and teachers.  Not only must she conceal the monastery's existence, but she has to adapt to the very public and commercial culture in the Apex.  

She finds that the hunters are observed, recorded, and their days are transmitted on cable tv.  Each hunter has her own channel with daily updates. Their rankings determine their perks as well as help to distract the greater population from analyzing the stresses and dangers that come from the monsters that live around them.  Joy is quick to understand the politics and the stakes, but she's entered a deadly arena.  She must determine who she can trust and how best to protect her uncle, a high government officer, from subtle political traps.

As Joy makes her way through the hunter culture, she finds friends and allies and we can't help but root for her.  She's more than a team player, her focus is on protecting the Cits and her fellow hunters regardless of the risk to herself.  Her sense of honor seems almost old fashioned and make her stand out among the more jaded Apex hunters and politicos.  

Every hunter commands magical dogs that aid in their hunt.  With 7 hounds, Joy doesn't just have one of the largest packs, her hounds are particularly gifted and strong.  I loved that though Joy goes through terrifying ordeals, her behavior wins over other hounds and that her pack grows.   I enjoyed Hunter so much that I wanted to order the second book in the series halfway through reading the first book. 

About the Author:
Mercedes Lackey is the New York Times best-selling American fan­tasy author behind the Heralds of Valdemar series, the Elemental Masters series, the 500 Kingdoms series, and many more. She has published over one hundred novels in under twenty-five years.