Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Mighty Oak and Me (Mr. Pish Backyard Adventure Book 2) - K.S. Brooks and Mr. Pish

For my final 2016 IU Reading Challenge book, I've chosen a cute picture book starring Mr. Pish, the Traveling Terrier.

This new edition of The Mighty Oak and Me brings the book into the Mr. Pish series, which promotes reading and outdoor literacy. Here, Mr. Pish talks about his favorite tree from his backyard in Maryland -- a 300-year-old oak tree. The book is full of interesting facts about oaks (which are one of my favorite trees, too), as well as a bunch of things that trees in general do for us.

I expect that after reading this book, young readers would be banging down the back door to get out and visit their own backyard trees. Highly recommended for fans of trees, dogs, and early education.

And with this post, Rursday Reads is going on hiatus. I've cleared my backlog of books to be reviewed, and my reading time is more limited these days. I'll be back to posting reviews here when I've knocked down my to-be-read "pile" on my Kindle. Until then -- read indie!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Sun Singer (Mountain Journeys #1) - Malcolm R. Campbell

Fifteen-year-old Robert Adams is a normal American teenage boy, with two differences. For one thing, Robert sometimes has dreams that come true. And for another, his grandfather knows the way to a parallel universe. Old Thomas Elliott once told Robert that he must go back to this other land, where he left important tasks unfinished, and Robert vowed to help. But now, Grandfather's health is failing, and Robert must go alone to Pyrrha and finish what the old man began -- if he can.

The Sun Singer is a cut above your typical YA epic fantasy. Robert is an appealing hero, and the other characters in the novel -- in both worlds -- are well-rounded. There's only one elf, and no dwarves or orcs, which is a relief to this somewhat jaded epic fantasy fan. And when magic is afoot, the narrative is often lyrical -- as it should be.

The book ends with a revelation about Robert's family, and the sense that there are more adventures to come. And in fact, I believe the second book in this series is already out. So I'd highly recommend that YA fantasy fans get started on The Sun Singer now.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Gino's Law - Candace Williams

The subtitle for this book is, "For Every Action There's an Overreaction," a mantra that our antihero, Gino Gibaldi, inadvertently lives by. One of his neighbors -- a slimy lawyer  -- turns up dead; when the cops stop by to chat with Gino, he mouths off to them, just sort of on general principles. Unfortunately, the cops have circumstantial evidence that he's the murderer, and Gino sure looks guilty to them. You'd think he'd wise up and straighten things out, wouldn't you? He wouldn't overreact and run from the law, would he? Of course he would. And then things really begin to get interesting.

Williams calls this a quirky mystery, and there's certainly a whodunit aspect to the plot. But the best part for me was the characterizations, from Gino the misanthrope, to the Miss Jean Louise, the beauty-prize-winning hamster owned by Gino's gay neighbor. I saw a couple of instances where the Spanish wasn't up to snuff (for instance, a native Spanish speaker would say problema, not problemo -- "no problemo" is American slang), but by and large, the book is well-written and well-edited.

If you're looking for a fun mystery story, you could do worse than Gino's Law. Highly recommended for readers who like humor with their whodunits.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Spool of Blue Thread - Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler is a master at making family relationships come alive, in all their messy glory, and A Spool of Blue Thread is no exception. Set in Baltimore, as most of her novels are, this book tells the story of the Whitshanks -- a family who came up from nothing, yet ended up owning a house as quirky as they are.

The patriarch these days is Red Whitshank. He and his wife Abby have four grown children and a number of grandchildren. Red and Abby are getting on in years, and part of the plot centers around how the adult children can best help their parents age in place. But that's only one of the things going on here; the family has several secrets, and you can bet they'll all be revealed before the final page.

A Spool of Blue Thread was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, among its many accolades. I enjoyed the book, but I wondered whether the Booker nod wasn't as much for her career as for this book in particular. Maybe when I read it, I wasn't in the mood for a book about a quirky but charming American family, one with plot threads that weave around each other to create a fabric rather than racing toward a finish line. There's humor and heart here, but not enough to make me love the book Suffice it to say that I've read a few of Tyler's books, and this one isn't my favorite. (That would be The Accidental Tourist.)

Recommended for readers who enjoy meandering family sagas with moments of humor.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Man in the Black Hat - Melissa Bowersock

For this month's Indies Unlimited Reading Challenge, I'm going slightly out of order and reading an indie book "of my choice." (I'll do the one-of-a-series challenge next month.)

Although one could be forgiven for thinking The Man in the Black Hat is part of a time-travel quasi-series. Bowersock's previous two novels were about a modern man named Travis who finds himself mysteriously transported into the past, and makes a better life for himself there than he has in the here and now. Clay Bauer, the main character in this book, is no Travis. He's a character actor in the movies -- the guy who always plays the heavy because of his looks. He's resigned to never being the leading man. But one day, while on location for a Western that's shooting in Sedona, Arizona, Clay stumbles through a sort of wormhole in time, and finds himself in the honest-to-goodness Wild West.

Almost immediately, he meets Ella -- which is a good thing, as he sustained a broken arm in a fall when he transitioned to her time. Ella and her brother Marcus are homesteading near where Sedona will be located someday. The two of them patch Clay up, and let him rest up and heal. But when it's time for Clay to go back to his old life, Ella has a choice: stay with her brother, or leave with the man she has come to love. But will she be able to adjust to life 115 years in the future?

I've enjoyed every Bowersock novel I've read, and this one is no exception. She has clearly done her homework on the history of Sedona, as well as on the movie business. Clay is an engaging fellow, Ella is as spirited and independent as you would expect a frontier woman to be, and the resolution to their dilemma rings true. I would highly recommend The Man in the Black Hat to readers who love a sweet love story.

I reviewed an advance reader copy of this book.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Druid (Storytellers Book 1) - Frank Delaney

I'm reaching into the vault for this week's book. I read the first couple of Storytellers short stories by Frank Delaney when they first came out, a few years ago, and recently realized that I'd lost track of the rest of the series. Which is too bad, for Delaney spins a fine yarn.

For those on this side of the pond, Delaney was a writer and broadcaster in Ireland and the UK for more than thirty years. He's somewhat of an expert on James Joyce, and he has been a judge for the Booker Prize. I read his novel Ireland years ago and was charmed by it -- and not only because he named one of his characters Mrs. Cantwell.

The Storytellers series was, I think, conceived as a promotional vehicle for his most recent novel, The Last Storyteller (which I have not read). The short stories and the novel came out at about the same time, and the first chapter of the novel is included with The Druid. Which I should probably get around to reviewing now.

The story is set in Ireland, and the main character is a fake druid named Lew. The ugly little fellow decides he must marry Elaine, the fairest young girl in the neighborhood -- not because he loves her, but because he's convinced her wealthy father will set them up for a life of ease. Alas, Elaine is already promised to another -- a stranger who is shortly to arrive to collect her. Lew and his one-legged crow have only a few days to figure out how to trick Elaine into marrying him.

Delaney's tale is told effortlessly and with a great deal of fun. As you read it, you can almost imagine yourself gathered with your loved ones around the hearth while the Old Storyteller weaves his tale about you all.

I need to find the other stories in this series. Highly recommended for those who love a good tale.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Nova - Samuel R. Delany

Basically, I was shamed into reading Nova. Well, maybe not shamed, exactly. But a number of friends, upon learning that I'd never read anything by Samuel R. Delany, strongly suggested that I read this book.

Nova won the Hugo Award for Delany in 1968. It's a space opera about a good-guy space captain named Lorq van Ray and his quest to find a plentiful source of Illyrion, the element that makes space travel possible. He believes he can generate it by sending his ship through a nova, so he assembles a ragtag crew and heads for his destiny. Compounding the danger are his nemeses, Prince Red and his beautiful twin sister Ruby. The Red family currently controls the largest viable source of Illyrion, so if Lorq succeeds, the Reds will be ruined. But Prince Red's hatred of Lorq goes back much farther, to their shared childhood. In short, Lorq is the good guy, Prince is the mentally unbalanced bad guy, and Ruby is the siren whom Lorq is in love with -- although there are hints that her relationship with Red, and her fierce loyalty to him, are more than just brotherly love.

But some of the most interesting parts of the story involve the members of Lorq's crew, most notably Mouse, a gypsy from Earth who plays a remarkable holographic synthesizer called a syrynx; and Katin, a Harvard-educated fellow who is knocking around the galaxy to tour moons while he gathers material to write a novel -- an archaic storytelling device that nobody bothers with anymore.

Much has been written about Nova's use of metafictional techniques: Lorq's whole voyage is a grail quest, and two crew members (Lynceos and Idas) are named for two of Jason's Argonauts. Also, the Tarot figures prominently -- and interestingly, in this society the Tarot is considered to be not only accurate, but worthy of scientific pursuit.

My friends were right -- Nova is worth your time. Recommended for fans of space opera, as well as for anyone interested in serious science fiction.