Friday, October 5, 2012

Ashen Winter, by Mike Mullin (fiction) - survival

book cover of Ashen Winter by Mike Mullin published by Tanglewood
Enormous snow drifts where green summer cornfields should be thriving...

How long will the volcanic ash in the atmosphere keep the sun from shining through?

Can teens armed with determination, taekwondo skills, and dwindling supplies rescue their family members in peril?

Grab Ashfall (book 1, reviewed here) at your local library or independent bookstore so you know the whole story, then bundle up warmly to continue Alex and Darla's chilling journey through Ashen Winter on its October 8th publication date.

Gotta admit that I was a trifle nervous traveling through Yellowstone National Park a few weeks ago, seeing the steam from its thousands of "thermal features" rising up into the blue sky on a freezing morning. Glad that it's all being monitored - but will we truly have enough warning if the supervolcano threatens to blow sky-high?

Book info: Ashen Winter (Ashfall Trilogy, book 2) / Mike Mullin. Tanglewood, 2012. [author's website] [publisher site

My Recommendation:

The world now is all snow and questions for Alex, trying to locate his parents after all communication was wiped out by the supervolcano eruption, trying to keep himself and his girlfriend Darla safe and alive in the unending winter.

A scrap of news now stirs the teens into action: his parents were accosted by bandits while hiking across the state to find Alex and are alive – for the moment. Desperate times and dwindling food supplies are turning some people into savages of the worst sort.

The government is keeping ashfall refugees within the affected area, in camps that lose more people to starvation and cold than to escape. Avoiding their patrols, staying clear of bandits (and worse), holding onto all their supplies – it’ll be a tough journey, but Alex must find his parents.

As Alex and Darla leave his little sister at their aunt and uncle’s farm, they hope for the best and prepare for emergencies – possible injuries, bandits, sinkholes in the snowpack. But a sudden encounter and an ambush separate them early in their journey, leaving Alex to seek help from the townspeople they met on their earlier travels in order to rescue her.

Can Darla stay alive and unharmed in the hands of the gang? Can Alex convince anyone to go along on the rescue mission? If his parents did make it to the next refugee camp, can the teen help them escape?

This second book in the post-apocalyptic trilogy answers key queries for Alex and Darla (and readers) following the initial Ashfall (book one) while leaving the survivors to wonder what happens next.

(One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Jepp, Who Defied the Stars, by Katherine Marsh (fiction) - a court dwarf dreams of more

book cover of Jepp Who Defied the Stars by Katherine Marsh published by Hyperion
In the company of tall women and taller men,
a thinker, a planner, a dreamer,
Jepp's life as a dwarf in the 16th century was never easy.

From a humble country inn to the royal court in Brussels to Tycho Brahe's observatory, Jepp's meteoric rise and fall are not what his horoscope predicted! Being part of a collection, as shown in Diego Velasquez' paintings - pah!

You'll find Jepp and his adventures at your nearest independent bookstore on its US publication day, Tuesday, October 9th; ask your local library to order it, too.

Jepp is a fascinating character, not satisfied with the hand that Fate has dealt him - do you think he can escape his destiny?

Book info: Jepp, Who Defied the Stars / Katherine Marsh. Hyperion, 2012.  [author's website] [publisher site]

My Recommendation: Jolting down a frozen dirt road, Jepp wonders how fate took him from his tiny village to a royal palace to this prison on wheels heading north. If the young teen could just find his long-absent father, discover why he was born a dwarf, learn to change his destiny…

His family’s inn sees fewer and fewer travelers, as Spanish Netherlands wars with its rebellious Protestant north in the late 1500s. Elegant Don invites Jepp to become a court dwarf at the Infanta’s palace in Brussels, to own more than one tattered book, to be dressed in silks, to dine on rare delicacies, so the thirteen-year-old leaps at the chance.

But the luxuries come at a high price, for the five court dwarfs are essentially prisoners in their gilded rooms and must perform silly tricks to amuse the princess and her courtiers. Jepp is not happy to be a mere clown, but is even unhappier to see his friend Lia become sadder by the day. Their daring attempt to escape the palace together proves costly, and Jepp is shackled and sent far away from the Infanta’s court and his friends. His horoscope promised much better than this!

In a distant icy land, Jepp finds himself part of an astronomer’s astonishing household, full of amazing mechanical devices, researchers mapping the stars, and a chance to think and learn. Are our fates truly locked in place, as the star-readers claim? Can Jepp change his destiny? Will he ever find his father? Could his horoscope promising “a good marriage to one faithful and true” really come true, or will only the predicted disasters befall him?

Inspired by the real Jepp of Uraniborg and Velasquez’s paintings of court dwarfs, this historical novel pulses with energy and intrigue as our narrator traces his life journeys and indeed tries to defy the odds and live happily into the landmark year 1600. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Fathomless, by Jackson Pearce (fiction) - mermaids, psychics, death and desire

book cover of Fathomless by Jackson Pearce published by Little Brown
Beautiful swimmers,
entrancing songs,
death in the sea.

Walled-off memories,
Screams and forgetfulness,
how can seeing a person's past be a gift?

The legend of the Little Mermaid takes a psychic and sinister turn in this shivery story of remembrance, loneliness, and love.

Jackson talked about Fathomless  at its September 2012 release party (video), reminding readers that her Fairy Tale Retellings series books are not for the faint of heart, hearkening back to the dark originals by the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and others.

You'll love the tie-ins with Sweetly  (my no-spoiler recommendation here) and Sisters Red  (#1 recommended here), so grab them all at your local library or independent bookstore now.

Which fairy tale should Jackson retell next?

Book info: Fathomless (Fairy Tale Retellings #3) / Jackson Pearce. Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2012.  [author's website] [publisher site]

My Recommendation: Reluctantly, Celia tags along as Jane and Anne finagle gifts and attention from cute boys in the vacation crowds. But it’s the shy triplet who runs to rescue a guy who’s fallen from the dock, and she’s the one who encounters his true rescuer under the waves.

It’s boring to spend summer in their boarding school apartment when no family members can take them in, so Jane and Anne practice their talents on the seaside tourists, seeing into their minds and into their futures with just the lightest touch. But Celia’s gift of seeing someone’s past seems so useless that she tries to ignore it, like she tries to convince her sisters not to manipulate others with theirs.

Offshore, an aging shipwreck hosts a colony of young swimmers whose land-based details are slowly washing away with the tides – skin colors all turning to seafoam, memories of family and names drifting into the depths. Each girl was brought into the sea by an ‘angel’ who may call her back some day. Or perhaps it’s singing a mortal boy into her arms that will change her, by taking all his breath with a kiss.

So why does Lo take Jude back to the surface when he falls from the dock instead of kissing him until he breathed no more? When Celia wades out and drags him onto the sand, why does she let folks think she was his sole rescuer? How can she tell Jude that the song he remembers from the sea was sung by Lo’s rival, luring him to die? How can Celia’s gift of seeing someone’s past help Lo find her true self and peace? How can she stop her talent long enough to hold Jude in her own arms?

A mermaid story with psychic twists, Jackson Pearce’s third Fairy Tale Retelling of a classic with undercurrents of the unexpected is a companion to Sweetly  and Sisters Red  that will leave readers breathless. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.