Saturday, April 28, 2012

Y for Letters from Yellowstone, by Diane Smith (fiction)

Hidden in alpine valleys are tiny treasures.
Alex intends to find them, to sketch them, to preserve them.
Who knows what wonders are waiting in Yellowstone?

It's a man's world in science in the 1890s, but Alexandria Bartram doesn't care. Her family is sure that she will go into medicine, but her heart is all for botany. Studying Lewisia flowers brought back from the wilderness of Yellowstone makes her eager to see them in their native habitat, so she requests a place on the summer field study team there. If Dr. Merriam thinks that A.E. Bartram is a man, then he's the one that's short-sighted.

Like the tough and tender Lewisia itself, Alex finds a way to survive and thrive under harsh conditions, an able researcher and methodical scientist, with an eye for all the beauties of this great national park.

Historical fiction which helps readers see the past more clearly can also help us preserve what's important for our future. When we visited Yellowstone this summer, I could see areas which Alex would immediately recognize and others which tourism had irrevocably changed.

Yes, the copyright date of 2000 is correct; this charming book is still in print, so check for it at your local library or independent bookstore.

Book info: Letters From Yellowstone / Diane Smith. Penguin, 2000. [author's website] [publisher site]

My Recommendation: Alexandria wants to study mountain plants in their natural setting, so she signs on with a Yellowstone research team. But it’s 1898, and the lead scientist thinks that Dr. A.E. Bartram is a man.

Dr. Merriam is quite startled to find that his new colleague arriving from Cornell is female - how will a young woman endure the hardships of rough camp life, he worries. Railroads have just reached the borders of America’s largest national park, so most travel is by wagon and on horseback. Alex has no concerns and is ready for adventure; when a respectable widow arrives on a bicycle tour and remains with the group as an amateur photographer, her chaperonage satisfies everyone.

Each member of the expedition has a different view of its purpose: Alex wants to catalog every variation of the Lewisia plant, Dr. Merriam needs to secure specimens of many plants and animals for the new Smithsonian Institution in the nation’s capital, Dr. Rutherford thinks he can teach a raven to talk as he studies Yellowstone’s avian life, and their wagon driver wants to stay far, far away from Alex and other females.

The story of the summer’s successes and failures is told through letters and telegrams.
Dr. Rutherford is trying to convince the president of his Montana college to expand the botany department, Dr. Merriam reminds the Smithsonian Institution of their promises to fund the expedition and quietly complains to his mother about the problems that beset them at every turn, Alex relates her discoveries to fellow researchers back East, glorying in Yellowstone’s amazing landscapes of geysers and alpine meadows.

Will Dr. Merriam get the full-time position at the Smithsonian? Will Native American conflicts prevent the team from completing their mission? Can Alex continue her field research when summer is over, or will she be stranded in a college classroom forever?

With summer snows and campsites ranging from woeful to wonderful, this novel takes readers back to an age of discoveries, when the idea of wilderness preservation was still new. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Friday, April 27, 2012

X for the unknown - You Are My Only, by Beth Kephart (fiction)

Every mother's nightmare.
Her baby kidnapped!

Every teen girl knows that her mother really doesn't understand her.
That's just the way it is - rules that don't make sense,
being grounded for no good reason.

We know that the stories of Emmy as a young mother and Sophie as a teen several years later must be connected somehow - author Beth Kephart as much as tells readers this from the start of the book.

But how the connection was made and how it falls apart, that's the real story, conveyed by the distinctive voices of Emmy in the mental hospital and Sophie in yet another rental house, longing to be with Joey in the world outside.

Published in fall 2011, You Are My Only should be available at your local library or independent bookstore now - don't miss it!

Book info: You Are My Only / Beth Kephart. Laura Geringer Books / Egmont USA, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

My Recommendation: Someone stole tiny Baby from her swing, leaving Emmy to face her husband’s wrath, the unbelief of the police, the dark of the mental hospital. Fourteen years later, Sophie and her mom move often, the teen homeschooled and alone, the mother overworked and burdened, always looking to stay ahead of the “No Good” as they find what others have left behind in the rental houses, but never talk about her past.

Then a boy spots Sophie in her upstairs window. Shouldn’t he be at school right now? She would never dare to be near the windows when people were nearby – Mom would be so angry, and the No Good might find them. A young man, Joey, who wants to teach her to throw a baseball, to make cookies with his aunts, to listen as he reads Willa Cather to them to make up for the journeys they can no longer travel together.

Emmy and her vibrant, jangling roommate Autumn have been thinking for years of how they would leave the mental hospital and its moaners and shouters and squeaky linoleum halls. Does anyone on the Outside still remember that they are there? When a message arrives from Arlen, who helped Emmy escape from her abusive husband after Baby was stolen, they know that it’s time to fly.

Sophie wants answers. Joey knows how he was orphaned by a car wreck, knows how he arrived at the home of his aunt Cloris and her sweetheart Helen, knows how they are dealing with Aunt Helen’s failing health. Sophie thinks that answers might be hidden in the boxes marked “personal” that they move unopened from house to house, so she creeps into the basement when Mom is at work.

Mysteries and histories, Cather and cookies, Archimedean solids and wisps of perhaps… alternating chapters told by Emmy and by Sophie weave their stories into a net to catch memories and maybe even the truth. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

W for Widdershins and witches - Body of Water, by Sarah Dooley (fiction)

Wednesday - her home is gone in minutes.
Wondering why her best friend has gone into hiding.
Widdershins, her wonderful dog - gone forever?

Why can't people just be nice when they don't understand someone? As nature-centered Wiccans, Ember's family stands out too much in this small Southern town, no matter how quiet they are. Her mom reads tarot cards for townspeople who call her a witch behind her back and won't even say hello to her at the store. Ember uses her spells only for peace, for clarity, to ward off Ivy's nightmares.

Her continuing search for loyal dog Widdershins - "who was a good dog and came when I called her - six times out of ten" - and for objects that the fire left behind brings her close enough to former best friend Anson's place every week that he might speak to her, tell her why he set the fire... but his silence is very, very loud.

Float out on the lake with Ember, find balance and clarity on her favorite Body of Water, feel how being homeless doesn't mean being hopeless.

Book info: Body of Water / Sarah Dooley. Fiewel and Friends, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site]

My Recommendation: Three hours after the fire, Ember wonders if Anson did it, if her best friend torched her family’s trailer house everything they owned, if that would keep his father from doing worse things to them for their beliefs.

Just because folks in the little Southern town call them witches doesn’t make them bad people. Dad calls their beliefs Wicca, Mom says not-quite-Wicca and teaches young teen Ember spells for clarity and balance with nature and peace. She also says that revenge is a bad seed to plant in your mind as it just might take root in your heart.

So now they’re homeless, Mom and Dad and Ember and little sister Ivy. She can’t find her dog Widdershins, and big brother Isaac is away at college. No room in Grandma’s tiny apartment, as if that devout lady would welcome her pagan son and family anyway, so eventually they find themselves at Goose Landing Campground, beside the lake where Grandpa drowned, the event that stopped Mom and Dad’s wanderings.

Ember ventures back to her burned-out home every week, searching for things that the fire might have spared - half a pair of Mom’s sewing scissors, a soup ladle – and for Widdershins. She mourns the loss of her spell journal, of Ivy’s random collections, of her former best friend. The only place she finds peace is floating far out in the center of the lake, where the water and the sky hold her.

And now it’s time for school to start. How can Ember and Ivy attend when their address is a pup tent, when they have no notebooks or decent clothes? Can they ever find a place to live when Dad can’t find a job? Did Widdershins perish in the fire or run away to find a safe home? Will Ember even be able to speak to Anson when she sees him again?

A story that circles back again and again to home and family and hope, Body of Water brings readers along on Ember’s search for clarity and balance and peace. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

V for vampires, preparing for The Hunt, by Andrew Fukuda (fiction)

As a human in his vampire-majority world, Gene learned survival rules from his father:
Never smile.
Never sweat.
Never sleep in public.
Never stand out.
Never forget who you are.

Having to drink water in secret, to remove all body hair, to train himself to always react exactly as his schoolmates react, to stay a loner even after being orphaned - it's a wonder than he's made it undetected into his teens.

If the other members of the Heper Hunt discover that Gene is a human with false fangs, then there will be one more heper to be chased and devoured alive by the unimaginably swift and vicious vampires.

Publication date in the USA is May 8, 2012 - The Hunt begins!

Book info: The Hunt (The Hunt, book 1) / Andrew Fukuda. St Martin's Griffin, 2012. [author's website] [publisher site] [UK book trailer]

My Recommendation: No one in his classes sweats or smiles or cries or has trouble seeing in dim lighting like Gene does. He can’t run fast, doesn’t thirst for blood. As a human “heper” in the vampire world, he’s hiding in plain sight, just trying to make it through another night alive. Then the Hunt is announced – a lottery for the right to chase and kill the last known hepers – and his number is called.

His father drilled rule after rule into him as he grew up: don’t giggle, never get any suntan, don’t fall asleep away from home, keep his grades only average. Somehow he knew that Gene would have to survive on his own someday, would have to pass for a true vampire all alone, just a number instead of a name. One look at their house with the unused sleeping perches and drinking water would doom him to immediate death and dismemberment by ravenous vampires.

The Ruler announces the Heper Hunt one night during school hours, and the Director of the Heper Institute explains the rules – training days, Hunt date, and the added bonus of providing some weapons to the slow, warm-blooded Hepers to make the Hunt last more than a few minutes. Everyone rushes to their computer terminals to get their lottery numbers, waiting for the night when the Hunt winners will be drawn. The excitement at school is unbearable – two students will join the Hunt, Gene and a girl he’s always called Ashley June.

And so his nightmare begins. There’s really very little training for Hunt members to do – the waiting is meant to build up the suspense for citizens who will avidly watch the last humans die in a haze of bloodlust and bone-cracking. How can Gene keep his own human sweat from alerting the vampires when there’s no running water at the Heper Institute to wash with or drink? Will someone come into his room and find him sleeping on the floor instead of hanging from his sleeping perch?

When he finds the Scientist’s journal and watches the heper group through the thick glass dome, Gene realizes that they’re much smarter than any vampire imagines. Can he alert the Hepers to the perils ahead? Is he going to survive waiting for the Hunt to begin? Will Ashley June be the one who discovers his secret?

First in a series, The Hunt takes readers to a dim and hungry future where humankind has one last chance to survive. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

U for Underworld - Abandon, by Meg Cabot (fiction)

The underworld, the afterlife...
We always wonder what it's like, after we die,
but Pierce knows.

If she hadn't tried to save the dying bird, she wouldn't have fallen into the near-freezing water, wouldn't have drowned, wouldn't have flatlined in the emergency room.

And finding herself in the Underworld, seeing the young man she met in a cemetery as a child, realizing that she's dead... Pierce just can't stay, and somehow she escapes back to the world of the living. But she's never completely here.

Well-known author Meg Cabot retells the Persephone myth with a dark, modern twist in this first book of the Abandon trilogy. Book two, Underworld, will be published May 8, 2012, so hurry to read book 1 at your local library or independent bookstore first.

Book info: Abandon (Abandon, book 1)/ Meg Cabot. Point Books, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

My Recommendation: A new start in a tropical paradise…that should cheer up Pierce, right? Somehow, she’s not recovering from her near-death experience very well. Part of her heart must have stayed in the Underworld, with him.

So Mom brought her to Isla Huesos, where she grew up. New house, new school, her uncle and cousin and grandmother nearby – living among the Florida sea breezes and bright flowers of “the Island of Bones” should help her readjust to being alive, to fully recover from being clinically dead after that accident two years ago, to escape from the strange things that happened at her last school.

People ask if she saw a bright light as she died, but not about her seeing John in the Afterlife or escaping from death itself. They don’t know that Pierce met handsome, dangerous John Hayden during her childhood when she tried to revive a dying bird at her grandfather’s funeral in Isla Huesos and succeeded or that he’s given her a necklace that warns her of danger approaching.

Isla Huesos High School has an odd tradition of “Coffin Night,” celebrating a hurricane so fierce that it lifted all the coffins from the cemetery. But this year, Coffin Night has been cancelled because someone has broken the cemetery gates and overturned gravestones. When John caught up with Pierce in the cemetery last night, he didn’t think that they’d be attacked by dark forces – striking back did a bit of damage, but they’d escaped, leaving Pierce’s necklace behind.

When the cemetery sexton shows up at school with her necklace darkening in its danger mode, Pierce has to meet with him later, despite John’s warnings. Does Mr. Smith know about John or is he just trying to frighten the newcomer? Why does her mother warn her about some local families and not others? Why are the storms strengthening so early in the season? Why does Pierce feel drawn to return to the cemetery again and again?

This eerie retelling of the Persephone myth takes readers to the Island of Bones and beyond, as strong winds and stronger feelings take Pierce far beyond herself. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Monday, April 23, 2012

T for Traitor's Son, by Hilari Bell (fiction) - ecology, mythology, and rescue

His father turned away from his heritage.
His grandfather turned away from his son.
He's a city kid who avoids the wilderness even more than his dad shuns his Native Alaskan roots, and it's up to him to turn back ecological disaster.

This parable about a possible future world mixes bioengineered plant plagues with Native American/First Peoples/Native Alaskan mythology and symbols as a reluctant hero must decide whether to get involved in the struggle to rebalance the earth's ecology using a medicine pouch and ley line nodes and other stuff that freaks him out, like that raven.

The Raven Duet begun in Trickster's Girl brings fresh awareness of humankind's effects on our ecosystems as we read this second book to see if the Traitor's Son will really come through. We'd better make every day Earth Day.

Book info: Traitor's Son (The Raven Duet, book 2) / Hilari Bell. Houghton Mifflin, 2012. [author's website] [publisher site]

My Recommendation: The leather pouch that she tosses to him must be contraband, drugs, something illegal. Jason can’t imagine any other reason that the teen would risk being shot – with real bullets - to get it over the Alaskan border. He certainly couldn’t imagine that it was the only hope for healing the Earth.

He’s only at the border station to pick up his father’s client and drive him back to Anchorage in the vintage electric sportscar he loves so well. Lots of well-earned perks for a Native Alaskan lawyer who was willing to leave his village and defend a lawsuit that made anyone less than one-fourth Native blood - like his own son Jason - ineligible to inherit Native properties and made his people call him a traitor.

Maybe it’s time to visit his grandparents again, Jason thinks, especially after he dreams of an old Native woman who warns him of a young man coming to steal the leather pouch. Then the new Native girl at his school starts him thinking about heritage and ecological disaster and even nature (strange for a city boy like him).

Odd, disturbing things happen when Jase visits his grandparents’ Native village, each one proving that the girl Raven is right about the earth’s ecology falling further out of balance. When she transforms herself into a real raven, Jase begins to believe she might really know what the medicine pouch can do to heal the earth.

How much is this city boy willing to risk to see if she’s right? Being only three-sixteenths Native Alaskan, can he truly step into the spirit world to fight? Traitor’s Son completes the story begun in Trickster’s Girl in this high-tech, high-security future United States whose only hope is the magic recounted in ancient folklore. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.