Fiction

MWD by Brian David Johnson and Jan Egleson

Posted on

Liz left high school and went straight to Iraq.  Her town was a dead end, her mother in prison, her grandmother as selfish as ever, and the military was an escape.  There was good and bad, but through it all, she had Ender, a Military Working Dog that she trained and worked alongside.  When a bomb abruptly ends her tour of duty, however, she finds herself back in her miserable hometown where even the few friends she used to have can no longer relate to her, no matter how hard they try.  But when she has a run-in with an aggressive stray dog, Liz finds a new sense of purpose.  She knows that Brutus could learn to be a great companion if only he were given a chance and the right kind of training.  Unfortunately, he is on doggy death row.  Desperate to save Brutus, Liz takes a job at the animal shelter and begins building her relationship with him–and with the people in her life.

A powerful story of a young woman whose connection to animals helps her rebuild her life after the trauma of war.  The characters and relationships are complex and the subject matter heavy.  Some of the more complicated action sequences were difficult to follow without any accompanying text due to the chaotic, dark and occasionally unclear black and white illustrations.  But the story overall still came across powerfully in the text and artwork.  I highly recommend it to mature teen fans of graphic novels and realistic fiction.

FRICTION by Sandra Brown

Posted on Updated on

The minute Judge Spencer starts asking about his past, Crawford knows he’s lost.  His in-laws will keep custody of Georgia, and his sweet little girl will only see him on weekends.  A split second later, a masked gunman enters the courtroom, kills the bailiff, and aims for the judge.  Crawford’s Texas Ranger instincts kick in.  He tackles Holly Spencer to the ground, shielding her bodily, and kicks out at the gunman, who flees the scene.  Crawford follows.  After a rooftop shootout, the man with the gun is killed, but no motive can be found.  And Crawford’s reckless pursuit has likely sealed the fate of his custody case.  But when Crawford  goes to Holly’s house to check in on her, things take an unexpected turn as their mutual attraction leads to one amorous encounter after another.  Their relationship gets more complicated as Crawford becomes a suspect in the shooting–and it turns out that Holly might not have been the target after all.

This fast-paced romantic suspense novel is marred only slightly by the stereotypical tall-dark-handsome male lead.  But his love for his daughter rounds out his character a bit, and the compelling female protagonist makes the relationship more engaging.  The sex-at-first-sight is a little ridiculous, but it is not atypical for the genre.  Overall, a fun read for romantic suspense fans!

THE RADIUS OF US by Marie Marquardt 

Posted on

It took less than two minutes for Gretchen’s life to change.  She was hit from behind, crushed into the asphalt, and robbed.  And then she witnessed something even worse.  Six months later she’s still having panic attacks.  Phoenix has them, too.  After what he experienced of gang violence in El Salvador, and his harrowing journey through Mexico, he is now being treated as a criminal for seeking asylum in the United States.  His brother Ari, in his group home in Texas, is worse:not speaking a word to anyone.  A legal adult at 18, Phoenix is grateful to have a place to live in Atlanta, even though he knows he will soon be sent back and killed. Almost no one from El Salvador is allowed to stay, even when deportation is a death sentence. But when he meets Gretchen, things begin to change.  He begins to enjoy his life in the U.S.  And Gretchen begins to venture out of her shell.  Together, they begin to heal from the traumas gang violence brought to their lives.

A horrifying glimpse into the realities of gang warfare and the Central American refugee journey, The Radius of Us does not shy away from graphic violence.   As disturbing as some scenes are, the novel helps teen (and adult) readers understand how gangs can take hold of the lives of children and teens and what the experience of fleeing to the U.S can mean for these children, including being abducted up by drug cartels and trafficked as slaves.  And memories and flashbacks aside, the story is busting with kindness and hope.  It does have the fairly trite plot where the girl kicks the boy out, but once he’s gone suddenly learns from his friends all these wonderful things about him and must therefore go on a road trip to get him back.  But still a worthwhile read.

EXCESSION by Iain M. Banks

Posted on Updated on

Culture ambassador Byr Genar-Hofoen is called away from his diplomatic mission to the warlike Affront aliens in order to undertake a secret mission for the Department of Special Circumstances.  Thousands of years ago, a star vanished, and now a mysterious thing–not a planet, not a ship, but another entity: an Excession–has appeared.  Is it a weapon?  An ally?  A group of sentient ships plots in secret, while eccentric ships act as double agents, meddling in the affairs of ships and humans.  And somehow connected to it all without knowing it, a woman living in a simulated world waits to give birth. 

In this immersive, unique, and thoroughly imagined science fiction novel, the reader must piece together seemingly unconnected or loosely connected characters and events which gradually come together into a rich image of galactic life and the prideful folly of political entities and sentient individuals (both organisms and machines).  Sometime humorous, always thought-provoking, this novel will appeal to fans of hard sci-fi.  At times, it was reminiscent of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,  but be prepared for a much denser read that demands focus, attention to detail, and occasionally, a willingness to think about math.  

THE MORE THEY DISAPPEAR by Jesse Donaldson 

Posted on

Sheriff Lee Mattock was popular in the small town of Marathon, KY. No one could believe it when he was murdered. But as deputy Harlan Dupee soon learns, Lew may not have been as innocent and he seemed. Harlan follows the trail of Leo’s killer, gradually uncovering the complicated web of Marathon’s underground Oxycotin trade.  Meanwhile, teenaged Mary Jane finds that getting rid of Lew hasn’t led to the immediate freedom she and her boyfriend thought it would, and the drugs no longer seem to provide enough of an escape. 

Not quite a mystery, Donaldson’s novel is a harsh glimpse into prescription drug abuse in the ’90s and its impact on individuals and communities.  The book may grab some mystery readers due to its subject matter and the puzzle-like way that the whole picture gradually develops, but it will likely appeal most to readers who enjoy gritty, realistic stories about dysfunctional communities, corruption, and seedy small town life. 

HOTEL AT THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET by Jamie Ford

Posted on

When Henry was young and attending  a school in a white neighborhood, his father insisted that he wear a button that said “I Am Chinese.” At first, Henry thought that his father’s pride in their heritage was an embarrassment. But he soon realized that his father was concerned for his safety. It could be dangerous to be mistaken  for a Japanese person during the war. Decades later, when the belongings of Japanese families who had been taken to internment camps are rediscovered in the basement of the Panama Hotel, Henry relives  a part of his past that he has kept secret even from his son.  For the first time, he shares his memories of life during the war and his forbidden friendship with a Japanese girl named Keiko.

 Jamie Ford crafts a beautiful historical fiction novel with a mildly suspenseful plot, compelling characters, and a rich and immersive setting.   I highly recommend this book to adult and teen readers who enjoy character-driven historical fiction.

HOW TO PARTY WITH AN INFANT by Kaui Hart Hemmings

Posted on Updated on

Mele thought Bobby would be excited she told him she was pregnant. She definitely didn’t expect him to tell her that he was engaged to another woman.   Raising her daughter on her own, she sought out other parents in the San Francisco Moms Club and after a few failed attempts, finally found the perfect group of unconventional, wine-drinking, occasionally pot-smoking moms (and a dad).  Now she hopes to fulfill her dreams of becoming a writer by winning the SFMC cookbook competition, blending her best recipes with vignettes about the parents she encounters.  And hopefully, by the time she’s done, she’ll have decided whether or not to go to Bobby’s wedding.

Told through a series of vignettes interspersed with Mele’s cookbook application and excerpts from SFMC message boards, this novel will likely appeal most to parents disenchanted with the stereotypical “perfect mom” culture.  The plot didn’t grip me or drive me to keep turning pages, but it was an entertaining read that I took at a slow pace (a chapter every couple of days).  The snarky narration kept me coming back to read a bit more.  Recommended to adults who like realistic fiction, especially parents who enjoy poking fun at mom groups.