Thursday, August 28, 2014

Marysvale (Marysvale Trilogy #1) - Jared Southwick

Marysvale is a YA horror story of sorts that's set in a fantasy world.

The setting is a frontier region similar to our Old West. The main character, John Casey, is a man with an odd gift: the ability to see into people's souls. That makes life difficult for him in this superstitious and suspicious culture. So John settles in some town for a little while, until the townspeople realize there's something odd about him, and then he moves on.

His latest escape leads him through a forest peopled by monsters -- creatures with the ability to track and hunt people. He escapes with his life, and arrives at an isolated farm where the owner, a middle-aged woman named Sarah, takes him in.

Then visitors arrive -- Jane, who is about John's age, and Jane's younger sister Hannah. They have come from the nearby town of Marysvale, where they live with their father. They used to live on a farm near Sarah's, but they fled after the monsters killed the girls' mother. As you might expect, John and Jane begin to fall for one another. But there is more to their relationship than young love, and the truth lies in the visions John has been having about his past -- a past he cannot remember.

Marysvale is the first in a trilogy. The book is well-edited, the plot moves along, and the monsters are well-conceived, although not overly gruesome. If you're looking for a YA fantasy with a bit of scary stuff, this book might be just the thing.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Assignment Prague - Helen Haught Fanick

Since I'm half Czech, stories set in Prague always catch my attention. So when I saw this book with the Charles Bridge on the cover, I was immediately intrigued.

Assignment Prague is set during World War II. The main character is Anton Janak, a Czech who is a member of the Resistance fighting against the Nazi occupation of what was then Czechoslovakia. As the book opens, Anton is participating in the nighttime parachute drop of a spy working for the OSS -- a woman whose mission is to infiltrate Nazi headquarters in Prague. But her chute fails, and she ends up with a broken leg and a concussion. Anton takes on the responsibility of caring for her, which not only entails getting her medical care and food, which are both in short supply, but also keeping her presence in his apartment a secret from everyone he knows.

The spy, whose cover name is Tereza, and Anton do their best to keep their relationship professional. But proximity and danger work their magic, and soon they find themselves falling for one another. When the danger heightens, each wonders whether their love will survive the war.

Fanick trained as a journalist, and it shows. I know from my own background how easy it is to fall prey to delivering just the facts, even when writing fiction. However, a novelist also has to portray the characters' emotions -- not just a description, but actually showing them feeling their feelings -- and I thought that was in short supply here. Because of it, I didn't get as close as I could have to Anton and Tereza. And because of that, the dramatic scenes didn't have the same punch to the gut that they should have.

Still, I liked Assignment Prague. If you like stories set during the time of the Nazi regime, you might want to give this book a try.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Strange Savior: A Short Story - Leland Dirks

The topic of suicide has been in the news lately, with the death of comedian Robin Williams. So my Rursday Read this week couldn't be more timely. 

For a 3,000-word short story, Strange Savior packs a hefty punch.

In the late 1970s in Boulder, Colorado, a college student is coming to grips with his homosexuality. One bleak night, he contemplates ending it all by jumping off a bridge into a frozen creek. What happens next is...well, I have my own opinion. But I urge you to read it yourself and decide: is it magic, or divine intervention, or a rare show of humanity?

Dirks is a wonderful writer. Please pick up this book. And if you know anyone who is contemplating suicide, please give them the hotline number at the end of the book.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Rock 'n Roll Heaven - Shawn Inmon

This one's just plain fun.

Jimmy "Guitar" Velvet has been playing in bands since he was old enough to notice that girls dig a guy with a guitar. That was several decades ago, and while Jimmy once got close to stardom, he's never made it big. He and his fellow band members tour the Pacific Northwest in a converted bus, playing bars and just scraping by. Then one night, traveling between gigs, the brakes go out on the bus and it plunges into a creek. Jimmy is the only member of the band who doesn't get out alive.

But that's just the start of Jimmy's adventure, because St. Peter sends him to Rock 'n Roll Heaven. The streets there are paved in gold CDs, and everybody who was anybody has their own little club. Jimmy can't figure out why all these legendary rockers are welcoming him -- a guy who never made it big -- with open arms. But as it turns out, Jimmy has something special to contribute to Rock 'n Roll Heaven.

Inmon's style is smooth and engaging. Jimmy's a likeable guy, and his reaction to meeting all his heroes is believable. I found Rock 'n Roll Heaven a quick, fun read. If you're looking for a beach read for these last summer days, you could do worse than this book.

And because I know you're dying to know: yes, in Rock 'n Roll Heaven, they really do have a hell of a band.