Tuesday, March 25, 2014

War in Ukraine!

The Winter HorsesThe Winter Horses by Philip Kerr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

More timely than the author and publisher could have known. I foresee some prize nominations. This book is magical and real, filled with love and death and hope. I was lucky to receive a review copy from the publisher, but I have just bought two copies to send as gifts. I wish I could see the author's note, for I am sure there is a personal connection for him somewhere.

At any rate: It's WWII. The Germans have invaded Russia. Young Kalinka is on the run after everyone in her village is killed by the Nazis. No one will take her in, for she is a Jew. Old Max lives in a cottage on a nature preserve (founded by a German). The horses, living history--the horses of the cave-paintings--take Kalinka under their wings, taking pity on her. Nazis come to the nature preserve.

War is a force that brings meaning to our lives--it reveals the worst and the best of the human character, and it's all on display here. Good and evil are everywhere, it's up to each of us to choose--and the natural world is caught up in  the drama, too. Story is a wonderful vehicle for not only thinking about these things, but feeling our way to what our own reactions and answers will be as we grow into our futures. There are a couple of places where the dialogue seems stilted and unreal (fictional!), but the story is meant to be mysterious and compelling, and it is. The author never plays it false with feeling.

Keeping it on my personal shelves for re-reading. Highly recommended. For middle-schoolers, I would read as a class and discuss or make sure my advanced reader had somebody to talk to about it.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Coming of Age in Shannara

The High Druid's Blade (The Defenders of Shannara #1)The High Druid's Blade by Terry Brooks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Though this entry feels slightly YA, I think this will be an interesting series to go on with, and certainly important for the annals of Shannara. It might be a good entry point into the series entire, especially for a young person not familiar with it.

Mainly a coming of age story, High Druid’s Blade follows Paxon Leah, a young man living 150 years after the Forbidding, a descendant of both the Leah and Ohmsford clans. The Federation seemingly rules ever more territory and has banned magic. Paxon runs the family air transport business for his family and pushes away any sense of wonder. A blackened sword, seemingly bereft of magic, hangs on his wall. He watches over his adolescent sister, who drinks and gambles and fights and who knows what all—until one day she gets in the ultimate trouble and is abducted by a dark stranger. Paxon, of course, goes after her, and thus begins his journey to become the High Druid’s Blade—I believe this will be the story of the making of a paladin, perhaps? That’s what will make me pick up the next book. That and what will happen to sister Chrysallin, who was abducted twice, tortured with magic, exhibited power (you can guess which one), and has seemingly forgotten everything?

Cons: slow going, especially the first half. Torture scenes, way too many pages.  Predictable.
Pros: Mr. Brooks is a master, even when not writing a masterpiece (read Running with the Demon, Knight of the Word, Genesis of Shannara stories for that).

Thanks to lovely Random House and Netgalley for the EARC to read for review!

Recommended for fans, certainly library purchase. Possibly for new YA readers as well.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

As we walk in fields...

The All You Can Dream BuffetThe All You Can Dream Buffet by Barbara O'Neal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

...of lavender! Luscious! The All You Can Dream Buffet tantalizes, tempts, seduces--and satiates. Not since reading The Lost Recipe for Happiness have I loved one of Barbara O'Neal's books so well. Her writer's gift is fully showcased again here: prose that lights up the page, characters that light up your heart, love and dreams and sorrow and food and growing things--friendship and broken hearts, hot sex and broken promises. Yes, and the kitchen sink, too! Several of them, in Airstream trailers, no less.

Here's the blurb: Popular blogger and foodie queen Lavender Wills reigns over Lavender Honey Farms, a serene slice of organic heaven nestled in Oregon wine country. Lavender is determined to keep her legacy from falling into the profit-driven hands of uncaring relatives, and she wants an heir to sustain her life’s work after she’s gone. So she invites her three closest online friends—fellow food bloggers, women of varied ages and backgrounds—out to her farm. She hopes to choose one of them to inherit it—but who?

There’s Ginny, the freckle-faced Kansas cake baker whose online writing is about to lead her out of a broken marriage and into a world of sensual delights. And Ruby, young, pregnant, devoted to the organic movement, who’s looking for roots—and the perfect recipe to heal a shattered heart. Finally, Val, smart and sophisticated, a wine enthusiast who needs a fresh start for her teenage daughter after tragedy has rocked their lives.

Fear not, dear readers, buy the book and dream of spring. A feel-good, heart-warming, restore-your-faith, life-affirming little jewel of a novel. Breathe in the wafting scent of lavender tea, prepare your mouth for the luscious burst of scones and honey, and prepare to laugh and  cry with a few friends. Did I mention I really liked it?

(Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the advance EARC for review.)

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