Thursday, July 25, 2013

Don't Tell Anyone - Laurie Boris

I was initially reluctant to read this book.  Not because of the subject matter -- I've read several books in which somebody has cancer, and it didn't put me off of those.  No, what worried me was that Don't Tell Anyone was going to turn into a borscht-belt comedy. Jewish humor has never been my thing.

As it turned out, I needn't have worried.  Laurie Boris wouldn't do that to me.  Not even with a crotchety, cancer-ridden 65-year-old Jewish mother at the center of the action.

Estelle Trager has been keeping her breast cancer a secret from her two sons and her daughter-in-law.  And she's been in denial, using that ol' magical thinking to justify it.  She watched as her mother and grandmother both died from the disease, and believes the treatment is worse than just dying from it already.  Not that she actually plans to die of cancer.  No, she's got a better idea. She wants her daughter-in-law, Liza -- who Estelle once described as "a godless hippie raised by wolves" -- to kill her.

A horrified Liza refuses, of course.  But then she keeps Estelle's request a secret, adding it to the pile of things she hasn't told Adam, her husband.  Among the other things in that pile are Liza's true feelings for Adam's brother, Charlie, with whom she does share Estelle's request.

There's more, of course, but I don't want to spoil it all for you.  Just don't let the subject matter scare you off -- Don't Tell Anyone is a wonderful book.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Death & Magic (The Barefoot Healer, Vol. 1) - Steven J. Pemberton

Looks like I reviewed this one on Goodreads awhile ago -- February 2012, to be precise.  Let's fire up the Wayback Machine and see what I said (oooh, four stars - I must've liked it!):

Apprentice wizard Adramal, daughter of a well-known wizard, is shipped off to a new magic academy, where her father won't hamper her magical growth. On her way, she finds herself involved in a murder investigation. The authorities believe a wizard has committed the murders -- something wizards are sworn against.

Part fantasy, part murder mystery, Death & Magic is an enjoyable read.

I remember saying something about this book to a friend who went, "Oh, magic student gets sent to a magical academy.  Must be a Hogwarts ripoff." And I remember thinking, well, no, not at all.  Adramal is adept enough that the authorities reluctantly bring her into their investigation, into a murder that happens in a nearby village.  The school is set up differently from Hogwarts. And Adramal herself is no goggle-eyed magical newbie.

So my verdict is that it's worth a look.  And hey, I see here that the author has written a sequel.  Guess I'll have to add it to the TBR pile.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Heather Skye Wilson Is the Psychic Warrior - T.D. McKinnon

This is kind of an odd book.  I would put it squarely in the sci-fi quadrant of the speculative fiction roundhouse, except for a "whoa!" twist at the very end that kind of made me wonder what McKinnon was on when he wrote it.  And I mean that in a good way.

Here's the setup: Heather Skye Wilson is the daughter of two diplomats for World Unity, an organization which seems to have superseded the United Nations since the world's three biggest monotheistic religions have more or less destroyed each other.  (You see why I was intrigued initially.)  So Heather is a well-traveled diplomatic brat.  But she's also got a highly-developed psychic ability that causes her to regress to past lifetimes.  When this happens, she is actually inside the head of the person she was, but she retains her modern-day knowledge. So she is able to influence the actions and decisions of these past selves, and makes life better for those around them.  At the same time, some of the people she visits in these past lives are adults, with adult experiences -- experiences that she lives right along with them.

When World Unity catches wind of how adept she is at this sort of thing, they pretty much beg her to join their peacekeeping force. One of her first missions is to rescue a friend (who might become more than a friend) from a cult centered around the birth of a new Messiah -- the sort of cult that World Unity believes will bring about a return of religious war and the eventual destruction of the planet.

McKinnon has written a ripping yarn.  I recommend it.  And when you get to the last few pages of the book and go, "whoa," let me know what genre you think it ought to go into.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Round House - Louise Erdrich

In honor of Independence Day weekend, you'd think I'd review another book by an independent author, wouldn't you?  Well, I'm not.  Instead, I've picked a book whose characters are perhaps not so glad that we beat the British.
The Round House won the National Book Award last year, and it's easy to see why.  Erdrich is at the top of her game, wrapping humor and pathos into a wonderful book that's part coming-of-age story and part whodunit.

Joe Coutts is a thirteen-year-old Ojibway boy who lives on a reservation in North Dakota with his father, a tribal judge, and his mother, whose job it is to evaluate applications for tribal membership.  One day, Joe's mother is sexually assaulted and nearly killed, near the round house of the book's title.  She retreats into despair, refusing to give anyone enough details about the crime to help them find her attacker.  So in the first part of the book, we watch the family torn apart as Joe and his father try to cope with both her reaction and their own grief and anger.

Eventually, the story comes out, and Joe becomes privy to details that perhaps he shouldn't, given his age.  He gets it into his head that it's going to be up to him to find the attacker, and he and his best friends -- Cappy, Angus and Zack -- go out looking for clues.  As it becomes increasingly clear that the perpetrator will walk, Joe decides it's up to him to see justice served.  And that's when the book becomes more than either a coming-of-age story or a whodunit and becomes something pretty amazing.

Much of the injustice in the story is due to the fact that the victim is Indian and doesn't know where the assault occurred. State, federal, tribal and private land all come together near the site, and the fact that state and federal authorities are unlikely to prosecute the crime is described as matter-of-factly as the fact that the whites who used to run the local grocery store would routinely charge their Indian customers more.

I've read a number of Erdrich's other books, but The Round House is definitely one of my favorites.