The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

indexBook – What could possibly go wrong at a bachelor party held at a respectable middle-aged investment banker’s house in the suburbs of New York?  So thought Kristin, even knowing that some naughty entertainment was scheduled. She gave her husband, Richard, her blessing to host the event for his younger brother and went off to Manhattan with their 9 year old daughter. But something happens that Richard never fathomed and his life becomes a total nightmare. The two beautiful strippers providing the entertainment stab and murder their bodyguards, take their hard earned cash, and flee the scene of the crime.

Bohjalian does an excellent job telling of how Richard and Kristin’s life and marriage start unraveling as a consequence of that night. Richard admits that he had gone into the guest room with one of the girls, but swears that nothing happened, though Kristin has her doubts. Richard is also suspended from his job, is hounded by the press, and threatened with blackmail. Meanwhile we learn of the plight of the two fugitives.  Alexandra and Sonja are not really women, but girls from Armenia and not only are they on the run from the police, but the Russian mob, as well. The girls were kidnapped as adolescents and turned into sex slaves in Russia and then brought to the United States. We find out about their sad and desperate circumstances. And now with no identification, credit cards, or knowledge of any different type of life are they really free? This story of suspense and desperation will keep the pages turning.

Bohjalian wrote this book to bring awareness that human trafficking and slavery is very prevalent and profitable to the exploiters.  To learn more, please visit The Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking.

Company Town by Madeline Ashby

indexBook – Hwa lives on an oil rig the size of a small town off the coast of Canada, where she works as a bodyguard for the United Sex Workers union. She’d hoped to get out – maybe back to Korea – by joining the army, but when her brother died in an explosion on the rig, her dreams got smaller. But the town’s just been bought by the unbelievably rich and innovative Lynch Ltd., and Hwa managed to catch the eye of their head of security. Now she’s the bodyguard for the youngest Lynch, a fourteen-year-old genius who’s heir to the entire company, and someone is after him. Oh, and just when she quit her old job, someone started killing her friends.

With corporate espionage, technological spirituality, and a serial killer (not to mention a pretty solid romance plotline) there’s a lot going on in this relatively small book, but it juggles everything pretty well. Hwa’s future is undeniably cyberpunk dystopia in the tradition of Blade Runner and Neuromancer, updated for today’s technology and the futures we can extrapolate from it: socially mandatory implants that require a subscription (which might break down and kill you if you stop paying). Visual glosses that allow you to simply not see anything that might distress you. A centralized security-monitoring system that tracks everything everyone does all day long — one that lets Hwa solve the murders of her friends at the same time that she resents the intrusion on her own privacy. I liked that best about this book. Ashby isn’t writing a cautionary tale about technology, she’s simply saying that this is what we might end up with, and we’re going to have to figure out how to deal with it.

They May Not Mean To, But They Do by Cathleen Schine

51Jz8l7pWXLBook – About Joy Bergman: “Oh, they broke the mold when they made that one. People who loved her said it, people who did not love her said it, too, for the same reason.” I fall into the former category. Joy is in her eighties and caring for her beloved husband Aaron, who has dementia along with other serious health issues. They are New Yorkers and Joy misses their daughter, Molly, who is living in California with her wife. Their son, Daniel, still lives close by, with his wife and their two young daughters. This story is about family and the ties that bind us during good times and bad. It highlights the issues we are forced to confront as we age, both from the perspective of the parents and their children. Schine, who also wrote The Three Weissmanns of Westport, explores these themes as she relates and finds humor in the most ordinary conundrums and routines. Joy laments about her physical deterioration, defends her take-out order meals and is determined to remain independent and upbeat. Molly feels guilty about living far away and she and Daniel search for ways (with sometimes hilarious results) to reassure Joy about her importance in their lives. Joy enjoys a special bond with her grandchildren and acknowledges that although she loves being in the midst of her family, she also finds them exhausting. This book reminded me that despite the differences in our individual circumstances, there is a shared commonality in our experiences as we face life’s transitions.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling

040c0679daa5bcf596b6a726d51444341587343Book–Did you hear the Harry Potter fandom squeal with excitement and anticipation on July 31st when the new Harry Potter “book” came out? It was a big day for all Potter heads. J.K. Rowling finally gave us a glimpse of life after the Battle of Hogwarts.

The Cursed Child begins with Harry Potter, now 37 years old, dropping his children off at King’s Cross. James, the oldest, is a second year and full of mischief like his grandfather. Albus is heading off to his first year at Hogwarts and is worried that he will be sorted into Slytherin. Harry gives him the pep talk we saw the Deathly Hollow‘s epilogue and Albus heads off for his first year at Hogwarts.

Unfortunately for Albus, life at Hogwarts is not as easy for him as it was for James or even his father. This causes conflict between Albus and Harry as the two try to connect with each other but keep failing. It is not easy being the son of the man who saved the world.

While the book is titled Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, we spend most of the time focusing on Albus and his time at Hogwarts. I really liked this. From the moment I read the epilogue in Deathly Hallows, I wanted a book about Albus. His character is so interesting and different from Harry’s. Where Harry succeeded, Albus struggles and that makes for a great character.

Some fans struggled with this book, but I think that it was worthwhile and a very quick read. The script format helps with the speed of the book, but I also missed Rowling’s amazing descriptions. If you have read it, feel free to come talk to me about it! If you have not, grab a copy, read it, and then find me to discuss it. Mischief Managed.

The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian

indexBook The Light in the Ruins is a wonderful blend of historical fiction and a murder mystery.  The story starts during World War II at the Rosati Villa in Monte Volta, Italy. The Nazis have a keen interest in an Etruscan tomb on the property and coerce the family into helping them seize Italian works of art.  Unfortunately, this cooperation and the fondness between Christina Rosati and one of the German officers is seen as betrayal to some of the locals.  What they did not realize is that the Rosatis also secretly sheltered partisans on their estate.

Years later in Florence in 1955, Francesca Rosati is found murdered with her heart cut out and displayed.  It is up to Serafina, a young detective to solve the crime.  Things are further complicated when the matriarch of the family, Beatrice is murdered in the same fashion.  The detective determines that this is a vendetta against the Rosatis and wonders if the family’s activities during the war had somehow triggered these killings.  It also appears that Serafina, who is severely scarred by burns received during the war, may also have had some sort of connection to the Rosati’s.

Heartbreak abounds during the war and as a result of the homicides for the remaining family.  The Villa is no longer grand but falling into ruin, since the Rosatis cannot afford its upkeep. The suspense builds as Serafina races to catch a murderer, before another Rosati is killed.

I think this book would appeal to fans of Kristin Hannah’s Nightingale and Chris Bohjalian’s other works such as Sandcastle Girls.

Ideas Are All Around by Philip Stead

indexBook – The narrator of Ideas Are All Around–unnamed, but presumably author Stead himself–doesn’t feel like writing a book today.  Neither does his dog, Wednesday, so the two of them go for a walk instead, meeting old friends and taking in familiar sights with new eyes.

Not all picture books are written with children as their primary audiences.  Not that I think kids wouldn’t enjoy or benefit from Ideas Are All Around–I just expect that adults will like it even more. Caldecott Medal-winner Stead’s book reads like a down-to-earth zen koan, a quiet meditation on place, community and the small, everyday moments that make up a life.  That might sound pretentious in a picture book, but the solid imagery, the polaroid-style illustrations and the clear, simple language keep Ideas Are All Around grounded and real.  While the stream-of-consciousness format would quickly wear out its welcome in a novel, it suits perfectly for this 32-page wisp of story, which leaves a lovely sense of peace in its wake.

In addition to being a great choice to share with family, I would absolutely recommend this book for adult fans of poetry or literary fiction who are willing to step just a little outside of their comfort zones and give the children’s section a peek.

Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby

196560Book – Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby brings us thirteen-year-old Joey who lost her hearing at the age of six.  She can almost remember the sound of her mother’s voice, which is still the only voice in her family she is able to follow by reading lips.  Joey’s mother just wants her daughter to blend in to the hearing world, and refuses to let Joy learn sign language, fearing it will make her an outcast.  However, this only manages to make Joey feel even more left out and lonely.  Joey struggles to communicate with people in her daily life, like her stepfather whose bushy mustache makes lip-reading impossible.

Everything changes the day Joy meets Dr. Charles Mansell and his signing chimpanzee, Sukari.  Suddenly a whole world of possibilities opens up for young Joey, as she secretly begins to learn American Sign Language.  Struggling to keep her newfound friends private from her mother, Joey is torn between wanting to head her mother’s wishes and being able to communicate with the world around her.  When tragedy strikes and Sukari’s life hangs in the balance, Joey will stop at nothing to save her friend.

Having read, and enjoyed El Deafo by Cece Bell, I was excited and hopeful Hurt Go Happy would be just as good a read.  The second half of this novel was a bit darker than I anticipated, following Joey’s fight to save the chimpanzee, Sukari, but it was a really interesting read overall.

 

 

Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt

0544526708.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Book – Ruth and Nat are a couple of teenagers about to age out of the Love of Christ! foster home in upstate New York. Traumatized after her older sister aged out and never returned for her, Nat is the only person Ruth has left in the world. That is, until a mysterious stranger appears at the home and suggests a way out – they can exploit Nat’s purported ability to speak to the dead, and make a living for themselves.

Interwoven with this story is that of Cora, a young woman with a boring job, a new pregnancy, and a boyfriend – a married man she’s been carrying on an affair with – who wants nothing to do with a baby. Before she can decide what to do about anything, her long-lost, much-loved Aunt Ruth turns up at her house in the middle of the night, and Cora finds herself following Ruth on a shoeleather road trip, walking across the countryside to a destination Ruth won’t explain.

I picked up this book entirely based on the title – Mr. Splitfoot was the name the Fox sisters gave the spirit they claimed to be communicating with when they invented seances and Spiritualism in 1848 – and although it wasn’t the story I was expecting, I was totally blown away. Part ghost story, part mystery, partly a story about knowing who your family is and what you can rely on them for, this is going on my list of best books from 2016.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

player oneBook– In the year 2044, the aptly-named virtual reality game OASIS allows people an immersive experience that diverts them from the shambles that is the world around them.  Teenage Wade Watts has essentially been raised by OASIS–he learned to read from its educational software, goes to school in one of its virtual classrooms, and like many others, seeks to solve the puzzles, or Easter eggs, that are hidden in the game. The first to find the eggs will win OASIS creator James Halliday’s fortune and control of the OASIS. To this aim, puzzle solvers (who call themselves “gunters,” from egg hunters) obsess over every facet of Halliday’s life, especially his video game and pop culture obsessions which should be familiar to anyone who was a nerd in the 1980s. Though Wade does not have as many credits (in-game money) or as much experience as some players, he is the one who stumbles on the first clue of the game and sets off the competition.

Though it certainly helps, you don’t need an encyclopedic knowledge of 1980s nerd culture to read this book. At its heart, the book reads like a virtual reality version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. If I had a complaint, it’s that I would have liked to see more world-building of the world outside the OASIS, but the game world is so immersive for both the reader and the characters that it’s not a serious issue. Ready Player One will appeal to fans of young adult dystopias, video games, and science fiction. Also, the audio version is narrated by Wil Wheaton.  Who can resist?