Friday, March 8, 2013

Bruised, by Sarah Skilton (fiction) - trained to defend, frozen when it counts most

book cover of Bruised by Sarah Skilton published by Amulet
She's a black belt.
She's practiced and sparred and competed.
She freezes when true danger strikes.

The journey to black belt in Tae Kwon Do or any martial art is long and rigorous, but under controlled conditions with traditions and rules to follow.

Imogen mentally punishes herself for not springing into action when the gunman attacks - can she fight through survivor's guilt to become a young woman of action and purpose again?

Just published this week, Bruised  follows Imo as she tries to rebuild her life to include Ricky's love and fill the void left by Shelley's departure for dance school and her own absence from Grandmaster Huan's dojang.

How would you react when a situation bursts into violence?

Book info: Bruised / Sarah Skilton. Amulet Books, 2013. [author's website] [publisher site]

My Recommendation: As the youngest female to earn a black belt at the dojang, Imogen was sure she could handle any attack. But the gunman at the diner proved her wrong, undid her whole life’s work as a defender of the helpless. How can she get past the blood-drenched scene when her mind has built a wall around the robbery gone wrong?

Tae Kwon Do is what she does, what she is, but she just froze at the diner, didn’t stop the robber before he pistol-whipped the cashier. She can remember hiding under a table, can remember the teen guy crouching under the next table, his new white shoes that became gory red and were taken as evidence, just like her bloodstained jeans. Gretchen called 911 from the bathroom, was smart enough to stay put – but Imogen should have been able to stop the situation before the guy was shot when he wouldn’t surrender.

She just can’t process what went wrong there. Can’t talk to former best friend Shelley who decided to hook up with her big brother at Imogen’s own birthday party, can’t pay attention in school, except during counseling sessions with Ricky, the guy from the diner whose shoes became bloody evidence. Her heart seems to be a lump in her chest now.

Being teased leads to a fight at school, to being asked by Grandmaster Huan not to return to the dojang until she can regain her emotional balance by truly living the ‘child rules’ at the foundation of Tae Kwon Do – respecting her parents (including her dad who let his diabetes put him in a wheelchair) and doing all her homework without being asked.

Who is Imogen without her time revolving around learning and teaching at the dojang?
How can Ricky like her or respect her when she failed to stop a death?
Why can’t she remember what happened between crouching under the table and being blood-soaked in the police car?

A compelling story of expectations versus reality, Imogen’s heart and psyche are so Bruised that moving on with life will take more courage than any Tae Kwon Do belt test she ever tried.
(One of 6,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Dark Unwinding, by Sharon Cameron (fiction) - invention, espionage, affection

Book cover of The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron published by Scholastic
Clever clockwork devices,
A hidden town,
A special man with a child's heart,
A spy and traitor plotting destruction...

Is it any wonder that Mr. Babcock used Uncle Tully's money to rescue working families from the poorhouses and create a unique village to fill all the estate's needs? Or that agents from enemy countries would try to steal Uncle Tully's work to use against England? Or that Katharine might finally find love?

The author promises us a sequel in fall 2013, so visit Stranwyne Keep yourself soon - and watch out for Aunt Alice's sharp tongue!

Book info: The Dark Unwinding / Sharon Cameron. Scholastic Press, 2012.  [author's website] [publisher site]

My Recommendation: It seems that Uncle is squandering away the family fortune, so it falls to Katharine to quietly visit the old man and gather enough evidence to have him declared insane. As “the poor relative”, the young lady has no choice but to make the long carriage journey to Stranwyne Keep, and a mysteriously strange place she finds it indeed.

A drowsy housekeeper, a mute young boy, a belligerent apprentice named Lane – that’s the entire staff for this huge English manor house? Mrs. Jeffries recognizes Katharine as Mr. Simon’s orphan daughter and avers that cousin Robert’s scheming mother must have sent her here to uproot Mr. Tully.

Where is all the money going if Uncle doesn’t throw lavish parties or buy fine horses? In his workshop across the moors, childlike genius Uncle Tully creates precise inventions in miniature with Lane’s assistance and keeps an unvarying personal timetable. Automatons, clockwork creations, part science, part magic, all Uncle Tully.

The family solicitor enlightens Katharine about how this estate is run – and how an entire village supports Uncle Tully’s projects as the estate supports its hundreds of workers rescued from London’s poorhouses! No wonder there is less money in the accounts than before… yet Mr. Babcock assures her that these projects will rebuild the fortune soon.

Katharine becomes convinced that some of her uncle’s entertaining inventions are very practical (others quite dangerous and alarming) as her fondness for this very special person grows, so she decides to support him in defiance of her aunt’s wishes, endangering her own chances of a safer financial future.

But all is not well in this idyllic setting, as strange noises taunt Katharine in the manor, Lane warns her about upsetting her uncle, a visiting student of mechanics begins to court her, people disappear from one location and reappear far away, and the villagers turn against her in defense of their dear Mr. Tully.

Who can she trust now - Lane? Mr. Babcock? Her maid and friend from the village?
What’s causing those eerie noises and her new nightmares?
Is someone really planning to steal inventions from Uncle Tully’s workshop?

A mystery and a Victorian family drama rolled into one, this Dark Unwinding twists and turns as Uncle Tully’s inventions tick-tock along, and a villain seeks to use them for nefarious purposes. (One of 6,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Cats of Tanglewood Forest, by Charles De Lint (fiction) - saved and condemned, quest to make things right again

book cover of Cats of Tanglewood Forest by Charles De Lint published by Little Brown
The forest cats did what they could.
Is it so wrong to wish death away?
Lillian so wants to be a human girl again, but the consequences...

Trying to follow the instructions of Old Mother Possum, meeting up with the Bear People, Lillian only wants to make things right, even if she cannot undo everything that the cats' magic set in motion.

An excerpt posted by Tor here gives you the flavor of Lillian's story in this lyrical tale, much expanded from De Lint's 2003 "Circle of Cats" 44-page novella also featuring illustrations by Vess.
This most-magical book is being released tomorrow (March 5, 2013), so ask for it at your local library or independent bookstore.

Indeed, is is so wrong to wish death away?

Book info: The Cats of Tanglewood Forest / Charles De Lint; illustrated by Charles Vess. Little Brown, 2013.  [author's website]   [publisher site[illustrator's website]

My Recommendation: It was the cats who decided to save Lillian. She just wanted to say hello to the fairies, but here she lies, dying of snakebite. Changed by their magic from a dying girl into a live kitten, Lillian can’t comfort her aunt or the neighbors who search the old woods. She must find out how to turn back into herself… and then how to make right the consequences of her choice.

These forest cats know that their magic might anger the Father of All Cats, that great black puma who stalks these ancient woods, who prowls in dark dreams. But they just couldn’t let the girl die, not after she’s been so generous with milk for them and respectful of the Apple Tree Man.

Lillian-kitten sets out to find Old Mother Possum, who might help her turn back into girl-Lillian. Accompanied by T.H. Fox (his mother named him Truthful and Handsome), she makes the long journey, despite his warnings that the part-witch-part-someone may not choose a solution that’s easy or simple.

Oh, turning back one death puts it onto another! Now Lillian has a bigger problem to solve and consults the wise woman at the Kickaha reservation nearby. Aunt Nancy sees only one path and not an easy one, as this problem is so big that Lillian must ask a difficult favor of the fearsome Bear People, no matter what the personal cost.

Does young Lillian have the courage to walk alone into the Bears’ den?
Why do the cats of the forest keep watching her?
Is love enough to turn away death?

Originally a very short picture book, The Cats of Tanglewood Forest brings even more depth to Lillian’s journey as she searches for a way to make things right again in her world, despite the danger to herself. (One of 6,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.