Friday, January 13, 2012

Valley-Westside War (fiction)

In 1967,
during "the Summer of Love,"
someone dropped the Bomb and began nuclear holocaust...

Why did it happen in one time-continuum and not the others? What made this time-stream different? If Crosstime Traffic seals off this alternate, will if prevent this blight from spreading to others where they trade undercover for resources?

Yes, it's all about the money for Crosstime Traffic; researchers are allowed to travel to alternate time-streams if there's a potential commercial advantage for the corporation.

That's why Liz is spending her gap year between high school and college with her scientist parents in this fragmented L.A. time-stream, with its hippie-talk lingo and scavenged technology. But can she hide her intellect well enough to pass for a young woman of this era during a war between neighborhoods?

You can read the six Crosstime Traffic books in any order, as there are different teens traveling the alternate time-streams in each. The Disunited States of America (review) never saw the Constitution signed - alternate history is an interesting and dangerous place!

Book info: The Valley-Westside War (Crosstime Traffic #6) / Harry Turtledove. Tor Books, 2008 (paperback, 2009). [author's website] [publisher site]

My Recommendation: Nuclear bombs shattered the US in 1967, leaving pockets of survivors and halting technology development – on this parallel timeline. Sent there by Crosstime Traffic, Liz and her parents pose as traders as they try to discover why this Los Angeles is still a patchwork of neighborhood kingdoms at war with one another 100 years later.

In the nearly abandoned UCLA library lit by oil lanterns, Liz scans crumbling magazines and newspapers with her hidden data device, hunting for the war’s trigger point. She can’t visit the library too often, as women here are expected to run the household and stay quiet – women’s liberation never even got started before someone fired the first deadly missiles. Good thing she’ll be at the real UCLA in the home timeline in just a year, instead of fetching water from cisterns during the ongoing drought.

When the Westside City Council decides to charge a toll for wagons coming through Sepulveda Pass on the old highway, King Zev of the Valley declares war. So it’ll be arrows and knives in hand-to-hand combat, as usual – except someone has found an Old Time machine gun and made it work. As killing from a distance becomes possible for the first time in decades, the stakes are much higher for Dan and the other soldiers.

A chance meeting between Liz and Dan may put both their missions in jeopardy, as Dan invents reasons to visit the Mendoza hacienda in enemy territory so he can talk to her again. It’s hard to transmit data reports to the home timeline when Liz doesn’t know when Dan might show up. He is nice to talk to and look at, of course.

As long as the Mendozas act like regular traders and the locals don’t suspect there’s a time station hidden in their hacienda’s basement, everything will be fine… right?

Turtledove brings readers into another alternate strand of history with this exciting episode of the Crosstime Traffic series, asking “what if?” a single event could change everything we know. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy purchased because it looked interesting.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Butterflies, by Susanne Gervay (fiction) - disfiguring scars, unbroken spirit

If the scars are only on the outside,
why can't people see past them to what's really inside?

Katherine's big sister thinks she should have been able to keep her from tumbling into the firepit as a toddler, even though Rachel was only in elementary school herself.

Her mother couldn't recognize her baby in that hospital burn ward and her father couldn't cope with staying in the city for her medical care. Mama cleaned houses so that she could be with Katherine through every new skin graft and therapy session, instead of taking the girls back to her parents' home in Italy.

Yet Katherine is more a normal teen girl than she is a plastic surgeon's project, even if some people label her disabled when they see her disfiguring scars.

Filled with hope amid all the the surgery and worries, Butterflies reflects what teen burn survivors told the Australian author over and over - "I'm still me."

Book info: Butterflies / Susanne Gervay. Kane Miller, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

My Recommendation: Katherine is not the burn scars that cover her face and body. Her swim team victories prove that, her academic performance does, too. Is hoping that one more surgery will make her look more like everyone else such a bad wish?

Nearly 18, she doesn’t want to be defined by the accident that almost took her life as a toddler. Dad left her and mom and big sister Rachel soon after her fall into the garden firepit. Mama sat beside her after countless surgeries and skin grafts, giving up her career so that Katherine had every chance. And she has her mother’s gentle stubbornness to thank for finding a school where she’s just another teen, a little nervous about her first dance, wondering if any boy will ask her.

When her swim coach suggests that she try out for the Australian Paralympic team instead of National Team, Katherine realizes that she’s not willing for someone else to set limits on her and begins training to become a surf rescuer. William from school starts dropping by the cafĂ© where she works – life is getting better, isn’t it? Her grandparents visit Sydney from Italy, bringing sunshine and love. Even Rachel is beginning to hang out with her college friends instead of hovering over Katherine.

But she’s determined that it’s time to ask the Professor to rebuild her missing ear. The gifted surgeon has assured them that someday her skin will be smooth, but surgery has no guarantees – is Katherine ready to risk a failed skin graft on her face?

The author’s time spent with burn survivors enlivens every page of this story of triumph and hope, brimming with life and thankfulness for the skilled hands of doctors and therapists who help so many. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Huntress (fiction)

Years of rain,
Crops rotting overnight,
Monsters infiltrating villages near the Great Wood,
a sudden summons from the Fairy Queen to her hidden city.

The most talented sage-in-training for generations, Taisin has seen a vision with Kaede accompanying her on this quest, and the oracle stones have confirmed it. Kaede is an able enough scholar, but her years at the academy have merely proved that she has no ability as a sage, despite her noble father's hopes. He'd rather solidify a political alliance using her as a marriage pawn, but the King has faith in the oracles and in Taisin's vision - the two young women will indeed answer the Fairy Queen's call, along with Prince Con and his best warriors.

Whether you're saving Malinda Lo's Ash until you finish reading this prequel or you're returning to the sea islands and forests of ancient Cathair, you'll be transported to a far place and a far time as you anxiously accompany Kaede and Taisin on their journey, hoping for their political success and future happiness together.

Find Huntress today at your local library or independent bookseller, and beware the monsters of the Great Wood.

Book info: Huntress / Malinda Lo. Little Brown, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

My Recommendation: No sunshine, no crops, no hope for their country unless two teens can learn what the Fairy Queen knows about the new monsters attacking under the never-ending clouds. From the sanctuary of their Academy, 17-year-old Kaede and Taisin must travel far – a daughter of the hunt and a sage just coming into her immense psychic powers against threats from… where?

Kaede thought that this quest would be much better than her noble father’s plan to marry her off as a political move, but as their small group encounters human babies born with writhing monster souls and villages scoured clean by ravening creatures of the fog, she’s not so sure. Is it coincidence that the Fairy Queen’s invitation came to the King’s court at this time of great troubles, when only Prince Con could be spared for the journey?

Traveling further into the Wood, whispering winds taunt with empty promises and Xi ghosts try to lure them off the trail. Taisin worries that her spell-knowledge is not enough to protect them. Warrior Shae opines that worry is useless; only action will see them through. Ceaseless rain leaches color from the world and hope from their spirits. The only warm spark in this dismal place is the growing attraction between Kaede and Taisin.

As they near the Fairy Queen’s city, Taisin’s sleeping- self travels to distant icy halls, the Xi ghosts circle closer, and the Huntsman of legend appears with a message. Can they indeed ford that vast river separating Fairy lands from those of humans? Will the Queen know why Cathair’s weather remains always winter? Can she help them bring springtime back to their world?

This evocative prequel to Ash takes readers into a world of menacing shadows trying to overrun a land like ancient China, where much depends on the hearts of two girls who should still be studying in school and falling in love instead of having to fight monsters in order to save their people. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.