Friday, February 3, 2012

Eleventh Plague, by Jeff Hirsch (fiction) - tough road in the future

Maybe some canned food is still hidden in that store,
Maybe they can pull some scrap iron from that bombed-out building,
Maybe the soldiers won't capture them,
Maybe the slavers will.

Germ warfare
on a global scale - China started it, but everyone was threatened by the virulent strain of flu. Only a third of the population survived that Eleventh Plague, and now living day to day is the hardest thing the survivors will ever face.

Granddad was tough on Stephen and Dad, but how else were they to survive after Mom died and the Quinns took to the salvagers' ways? Anything not practical was useless in Granddad's eyes, especially when they had to carry everything, so Stephen never let him see The Lord of the Rings book deep in his pack, nor the only photograph of his mother.

Is Settler's Rest too good to be real? The school must have over a hundred books! Stephen can even play baseball, like Dad did in the pros before the war.

Yet many townspeople mock and despise Jenny, who was adopted from China years before the war began. And some still suspect Stephen and Dad of being spies, even after the teen works and works alongside the other kids.

Jeff Hirsch's debut novel sends us along America's deserted backroads and shattered shopping centers on this Future Friday, always watching for soldiers and slavers, always wondering if the P11 plague is truly gone.

Book info: The Eleventh Plague / Jeff Hirsch. Scholastic Press, 2011. [author's website] [author interview] [publisher site] [book trailer]

My Recommendation: Always moving, Stephen learns survival skills from his dad and granddad as they travel through ruined America. Searching for salvage on the way to the traders’ gathering, they stay clear of the old paved roads where soldiers and slavers travel. What was it like before the Chinese bombed the USA and two-thirds of the world’s people died of the Eleventh Plague, that deadly flu? What would it be like if Mom were still alive?

A chase, an accident, a long drop – now grumpy Granddad is buried, Dad is in a coma, and Stephen must keep them safe. When a group of teens finds the pair near the river, he reluctantly accepts their offer of help for Dad. After blindfolding, the group travels a winding trail to a town – a real town, with a school and houses with unbroken glass windows! So many people in one place, mostly refugees who have built a true community in this remote gated subdivision.

Stephen can hardly believe their luck, finding an actual doctor who can treat Dad. Violet even lets them stay in Jenny’s room since her rebellious adopted Chinese daughter moved into an old barn, away from the taunts about her birthplace.

But not everyone in Settler’s Landing thinks it’s a good idea to let strangers in their gates. Some think that Stephen and Dad are spies from Fort Leonard where soldiers are in charge, others worry that they’re an advance party for the region’s ruthless slaver gangs.

For the first time in his fifteen years, Stephen can attend school and play baseball, like Dad told him about. Sure, the town’s kids have chores afterward, but they can go swimming and there’s almost always enough to eat – the adults have worked so hard to keep the town and people safe.

Jenny is always the wild card, questioning their teacher during the few times she attends school, challenging her peers to think for themselves. When one of Jenny’s pranks gets out of hand, the small community jumps to the wrong conclusion. Perhaps Stephen really is a spy, they worry.

Now Settler’s Landing finds itself divided – do they launch an attack against outsiders or stay inside their town walls to defend it? What can the town council do to keep this hard-earned fragment of civilization intact? Will they even be able to survive if the slavers or soldiers march into their hidden valley?

A future that might be true, a future that we pray never happens, the only reality that Stephen knows – this is America after The Eleventh Plague. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Bloomswell Diaries (fiction)

Sinister enemies...
Plots against peace...
Mechanical men...
This is not the way our history books portray the early 1900s!

On this World Wednesday, travel far with young Benjamin Bloomswell as he seeks the answers to his world-trekking parents' disappearance. The first-generation tinmen of England, like the redoubtable Olivander who works at the Bloomswell house in London, each have an insignia, rather like a badge which binds them loyally to someone.

However, those American tinmen attacking his uncle's New York townhouse are newer models, with no built-in loyalty feature. Inside their metal torsos, they can store weapons or treasure or young teenagers! These are not friendly Tik-Tok of Oz mechanical men at all!

Steampunk action, intrigue, espionage, and a rambunctious circus group make this diary anything but dull!
Look for The Bloomswell Diaries at your local independent bookstore or library. Here's hoping that first-time author Buitendag continues the adventure!

Book info: The Bloomswell Diaries / Louis L. Buitendag. Kane Miller Books, 2011. [book's Facebook page] [publisher site]

My Recommendation: Ben hardly settles into his uncle’s house in America before there are sinister phone calls, a break-in, and a murder. Odd answers to his telegrams sent to his big sister Liza’s new boarding school in Switzerland, no way to contact his parents on yet another business trip away from their London home.

The newspaper report that Mr. and Mrs. Bloomswell had been found dead cannot be correct – Ben and his parents were still sailing across the Atlantic on the date given for their funeral! As his uncle explains the true nature of the Bloomswells’ overseas journeys to stop sinister plots against world peace, he accidently lets out secrets that were better left unsaid.

Suddenly, Ben must outrun ruffians and mechanical men sent by a mysterious enemy. These American tinmen have no insignia that binds them to a family in loyalty. Could they be agents of The Buyer his uncle warned him about or someone worse? Ben tries to escape a decrepit orphanage far from the city, using skills learned from Olivander, the Bloomswells’ loyal mechanical man. He must get to Liza so they can solve the mystery of their parents’ disappearance!

Hurrying to hide aboard a steamer in New York harbor, Ben can only pray that the ship is heading for Europe. Down in the ship’s cargo hold, a circus owner guarding crates of super-secret magic tricks swears he won’t report Ben as a stowaway. As the ship slowly journeys toward England, Mr. Holiday and Ben realize that they are being chased by someone or something that wants both them and their cargo.

Are Ben and the circus folk really on the same side? Can they outwit the enemies pursuing them? Is Liza safe at school? Have their parents succeeded in their vital mission?

Crossing oceans and mountains on ships, carriages, and railway trains, pursued by mechanical men and shadowy villains, Ben’s entries in The Bloomswell Diaries are a fascinating alternate view of the early 1900s with a very deep, sinister mystery.
(One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Between Sea and Sky, by Jaclyn Dolamore (fiction) - mermaids, flying folk, love and loss

The lure of the forbidden...
The temptation to go just a step further from home...
The realization that you might not ever be able to go back...

Esmerine's world encompasses not only the classic attraction of mermaids and humans for one another, but also the tensions between the land-dwellers and the flying Fandarsee. Reveling in the 'life of the mind' and deeply intelligent discussion, these flying folk also are the messenger corps of this wide place, able to travel faster and farther than even the nobility's best horses.

Perhaps the memory of their childhood friendship will be enough to convince Alan to defy his overbearing father's demands long enough to help Esmerine find her sister. Or maybe the elder Fandarsee's deep loathing of merfolk will hinder their search until it's too late for Dosia.

You'll have to read Between the Sea and Sky to find out for yourself. Check with your local library or independent bookstore for this original and complex tale of the peoples of land, sea, and sky.

Book info: Between the Sea and Sky / Jaclyn Dolamore. Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site]

My Recommendation: At last, Esmerine has earned her siren’s golden belt, imbued it with magic so she can defend the mermaid village and the sea. She’s excited to join her older sister Dosia as a siren; they’ve always enjoyed that junction of air and ocean, not to mention their glimpses of land-dwellers in boats and on shore.

Merfolk sometimes tease Esmerine about her childhood friendship with that flying boy who brought books to share with her on a tiny island. Paper never lasts under the sea, so she has only memories of the stories she and Alander read together. Perhaps she’ll see other flying folk soon, and one of those messengers can take her greetings to him.

The young sirens patrol near the surface, and if necessary use the power of their alluring songs to stop greedy humans from overfishing or exploring too close to the merfolk. Sometimes they must resort to overturning a boat or letting the ocean claim intruders from the surface. Always, always, always, the sirens have been warned against speaking to human men, for the pull felt between mermaids and men is strong and subtle.

When Dosia doesn’t return from a secret rendezvous with a young man on land, Esmerine knows that she must go ashore, transform her beautiful tail to awkward legs, put on human clothes, endure the fiery pains of each footstep, and find her sister before it’s too late – and Dosia is doomed to have land-legs forever.

At the seaport, she learns that her friend Alander now works at a bookshop – maybe he can check with the flying messengers to help Esmerine find Dosia. Grown up, he’s known as Alan now; the Fandarsee man discovers that Lord Carlo had fallen in love with Dosia and has taken her by carriage to his mountain castle to be married there.

How can Esmerine travel all the way from the shore to the mountains? Will it be too late to help Dosia return to the sea? And why does even arguing about little things with Alan feel better than Esmerine’s patrols with the sirens?

In this richly imagined world where humans, merfolk, and Fandarsee must find ways to co-exist, young Esmerine must discover where her heart can truly live. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.