What’s up next? The Inquisitor’s Mark, by Dianne K. Salerni

I just started reading The Inquisitor’s Mark, the second book in the exciting Eighth Day series.  Here’s a copy of my preview post of this new Young Adult book.

InquisitorsMark_revised_final
The Inquisitor’s Mark
by
Dianne K. Salerni
Now Available

One of my favorite authors, Dianne K. Salerni, is getting ready to publish a new book. It’s called The Inquisitor’s Mark and it is the second book of her exciting fantasy adventure series for Young Adults. I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Eighth Day and I’m excited to see what will happen next. I just re-blogged my review of The Eighth Day so check it out to see what the series is all about!

Dianne sent me this terrific preview of The Inquisitor’s Mark today. It will be available on January 27, 2015.

The Inquisitor’s Mark picks up just days after The Eighth Day ends, with Jax, his liege lady Evangeline, and his guardian Riley in hiding from their enemies and making plans to find Evangeline’s missing sister. Out of the blue, Jax is contacted by a man claiming to be his uncle. This man, Finn Ambrose, provides proof of their relationship and demands that Jax be turned over to his custody. Furthermore, Finn reveals that he’s a vassal of the notoriously corrupt Dulac clan and that he has kidnapped Jax’s friend, Billy, to coerce Jax into meeting him.

Last year, when I was still teaching, I read The Eighth Day aloud to my class. When they asked about the premise of the second book, I told them, “It turns out Jax has a family after all, but they’re the people who assassinated everyone in Riley’s family.

One of my students slapped her desk with her hand and exclaimed, “Mrs. Salerni! How could you do that to Jax?!”

As an author, I loved her response, because she understood what a terrible choice this would be for my main character. As a teacher, I loved her response because she understood that the author had deliberately put him in this position!

The Inquisitor’s Mark was fun to write. I enjoyed the interactions between Jax and his younger cousin, Dorian, who’s uncomfortable with his family’s nefarious activities but has never found the courage to speak his mind. To Dorian, Jax seems tough and adventurous and brave. One of my students pointed out that Dorian looks up to Jax the way Jax looks up to Riley. My favorite character, however, is probably the devious Uncle Finn – who has sinister plans for Riley and Evangeline, but who sincerely wants to give his brother’s son a home.

Plus, there’s expansion of the Eighth Day world, including magical vermin, mysterious tunnels through time, and even a monster. Much of the book takes place in New York City.

There’s a devastating betrayal at the Balto statue in Central Park.

"Balto the Dog" statue in New York's Central Park
“Balto the Dog” statue in New York’s Central Park

And a really fun chase scene through the Central Park Zoo.

Central Park Zoo
Central Park Zoo

I’ll leave you with this excerpt from The Inquisitor’s Mark, which takes place immediately after Jax has learned about his real identity:

Who the heck am I? Jax Aubrey or Jax Ambrose?

He was surprised by how quickly the answer came to him.

Names change. That’s what Evangeline said. But I’m her vassal no matter what.

Jax didn’t have fifteen hundred years of tradition behind his vassalhood, like Mrs. Crandall, but he knew who he was.

Dad told me a lot of lies, but what do I know is true?

When his father was in danger, he’d asked Riley to be Jax’s guardian. Not his own brother.

So I’m not going to trust Uncle Finn. But Mrs. Crandall didn’t detect any lies in what he said today.

And Jax’s uncle said they would let Billy go when they got Jax.

What would Riley do?

That was easy. When Evangeline and Jax were abducted by Wylit’s vassals, Riley had delivered himself bound and gagged into enemy hands, just to get close enough to rescue them. Riley had traded himself out of loyalty to his friends. Put like that, Jax’s course of action seemed clear.

 The Eighth Day is the first in this series:

the eighth day

Dianne K. Salerni is the author of two other great books, We Hear the Dead and The Caged Graves.

 wehear the caged graves pic

Be sure to visit my reviews of these two earlier books, as well as my interview with Dianne Salerni:
We Hear the Dead:
The Caged Graves:
Interview with Dianne Salerni
Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

A Preview of The Inquisitor’s Mark, by Dianne K. Salerni

InquisitorsMark_revised_finalThe Inquisitor’s Mark
by
Dianne K. Salerni
Now Available

One of my favorite authors, Dianne K. Salerni, is getting ready to publish a new book. It’s called The Inquisitor’s Mark and it is the second book of her exciting fantasy adventure series for Young Adults. I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Eighth Day and I’m excited to see what will happen next. I just re-blogged my review of The Eighth Day so check it out to see what the series is all about!

Dianne sent me this terrific preview of The Inquisitor’s Mark today. It will be available on January 27, 2015.

The Inquisitor’s Mark picks up just days after The Eighth Day ends, with Jax, his liege lady Evangeline, and his guardian Riley in hiding from their enemies and making plans to find Evangeline’s missing sister. Out of the blue, Jax is contacted by a man claiming to be his uncle. This man, Finn Ambrose, provides proof of their relationship and demands that Jax be turned over to his custody. Furthermore, Finn reveals that he’s a vassal of the notoriously corrupt Dulac clan and that he has kidnapped Jax’s friend, Billy, to coerce Jax into meeting him.

Last year, when I was still teaching, I read The Eighth Day aloud to my class. When they asked about the premise of the second book, I told them, “It turns out Jax has a family after all, but they’re the people who assassinated everyone in Riley’s family.

One of my students slapped her desk with her hand and exclaimed, “Mrs. Salerni! How could you do that to Jax?!”

As an author, I loved her response, because she understood what a terrible choice this would be for my main character. As a teacher, I loved her response because she understood that the author had deliberately put him in this position!

The Inquisitor’s Mark was fun to write. I enjoyed the interactions between Jax and his younger cousin, Dorian, who’s uncomfortable with his family’s nefarious activities but has never found the courage to speak his mind. To Dorian, Jax seems tough and adventurous and brave. One of my students pointed out that Dorian looks up to Jax the way Jax looks up to Riley. My favorite character, however, is probably the devious Uncle Finn – who has sinister plans for Riley and Evangeline, but who sincerely wants to give his brother’s son a home.

Plus, there’s expansion of the Eighth Day world, including magical vermin, mysterious tunnels through time, and even a monster. Much of the book takes place in New York City.

There’s a devastating betrayal at the Balto statue in Central Park.

"Balto the Dog" statue in New York's Central Park
“Balto the Dog” statue in New York’s Central Park

And a really fun chase scene through the Central Park Zoo.

Central Park Zoo
Central Park Zoo

I’ll leave you with this excerpt from The Inquisitor’s Mark, which takes place immediately after Jax has learned about his real identity:

Who the heck am I? Jax Aubrey or Jax Ambrose?

He was surprised by how quickly the answer came to him.

Names change. That’s what Evangeline said. But I’m her vassal no matter what.

Jax didn’t have fifteen hundred years of tradition behind his vassalhood, like Mrs. Crandall, but he knew who he was.

Dad told me a lot of lies, but what do I know is true?

When his father was in danger, he’d asked Riley to be Jax’s guardian. Not his own brother.

So I’m not going to trust Uncle Finn. But Mrs. Crandall didn’t detect any lies in what he said today.

And Jax’s uncle said they would let Billy go when they got Jax.

What would Riley do?

That was easy. When Evangeline and Jax were abducted by Wylit’s vassals, Riley had delivered himself bound and gagged into enemy hands, just to get close enough to rescue them. Riley had traded himself out of loyalty to his friends. Put like that, Jax’s course of action seemed clear.

 The Eighth Day is the first in this series:

the eighth day

Dianne K. Salerni is the author of two other great books, We Hear the Dead and The Caged Graves.

 wehear the caged graves pic

Be sure to visit my reviews of these two earlier books, as well as my interview with Dianne Salerni:
We Hear the Dead:
The Caged Graves:
Interview with Dianne Salerni
Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

The Eighth Day by Dianne K. Salerni

the eighth day
The Eighth Day
by
Dianne K. Salerni

Rating:
4 book marks

Imagine a day between Wednesday and Thursday, in which people are trapped, put there centuries earlier by King Arthur and his allies. These are the Kin, King Arthur’s adversaries and they are imprisoned in the Eighth Day to keep the rest of the world safe. Imagine, too, people called Transitioners, who can move between the Normal world and this Eighth Day and who have enhanced talents to protect and help them. And last, imagine a group of people who are plotting to break the Eighth Day spell, to exact revenge on King Arthur’s descendants, obliterate the people of the Normal world and release the Kin in their place.

This is the central conflict in The Eighth Day, an exciting fantasy adventure by Dianne K. Salerni. It’s a story with a simple beginning that explodes into global proportions. Jax Aubrey has just turned thirteen and his parents are dead. His guardian, Riley is eighteen and does not seem up to the job. Jax doesn’t know what to think when he wakes up in the Eighth Day, but he soon learns there is a lot going on that he doesn’t understand. All this starts with Evangeline, the mysterious girl next door, who is trapped in the Eighth Day. All heck breaks loose when they become friends and Jax unknowingly puts many in danger.

The Eighth Day has many characters with blurred alliances and motives that cross between good and bad. Despite the complexities, you don’t need to be an expert on King Arthur and the players during that legendary time to enjoy this book. Salerni does a great job explaining the plots and subplots and recaps the complicated developments in a way that does not seem repetitive, but is definitely appreciated.

The characters are propelled to the story’s ultimate conflict in a huge battle for control of the Eighth Day. Many plot twists drive the story’s sometimes misunderstood characters to an exciting and shocking finish.

Although The Eighth Day is a Young Adult fantasy adventure, its themes carry adult messages. Salerni poses questions of honor, loyalty and sacrifice throughout the book. In addition to understanding how opposing sides work together for their own benefit, the reader must consider the question of whether it is right to sacrifice some for the survival of the masses.

I enjoyed this book very much. I was glad to have it on my Kindle because it made it easy to search names and places. But that’s more because I’m many years beyond being a Young Adult!

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

 

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells pic
The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells
by
Andrew Sean Greer

Rating:
4 book marks

What would you do if you discovered yourself living different lives during different times? What if, in these other lives, you had the chance to fix things, to point others towards happiness, or to alter your own life? What if you found a chance at happiness in one of these alternate lives, a chance that has been lost in your present life? These are some of the central questions Greta Wells must contemplate in The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells.

I loved this very original story by Andrew Sean Greer, in which Greta discovers her 1985 self living in two other time periods, one in 1918 and one in 1941. In her modern world, Greta has just lost her adult twin brother to AIDS. Her long-time lover, Nathan, has left her and Greta is impossibly lost. Feeling hopeless, she agrees to electroconvulsive therapy and is surprised to find herself living both similar and different lives in these earlier times. During this twelve-week period, Greta receives twenty-five procedures and cycles between her three “impossible” lives. Early on, Greta wonders, “So maybe I can perfect their lives. And maybe, while I’m missing, they can perfect mine.”

These lives all take place in her Patchin Place apartment in Greenwich Village and Greta finds things that are both familiar and unknown about her circumstances. In her 1918 life, she has been unfaithful, in 1941 she has been betrayed and in both she watches as her brother Felix struggles to find a way to reconcile his homosexuality with what the times expect of him. Greta sees the relief and euphoria of one war ending and understands how only she can know that another war is coming.

Greta describes the 1918 soldiers returning from war and celebrating the future:

These same soldiers would come home, never speaking of what they’d seen, and marry those girls and raise children, and they would send those children off to war again. With Germany, again. We would be here again, in this parlor singing this same song. I stood there, in wonder, at the madness of it all.

While this is technically a story about time travel with well-placed historical references that really take you there, it’s mostly a story of love, understanding, forgiveness and second chances. I think the author does a great job showing Greta’s desire to get it right with Nathan, in at least one of her lives. She works hard, too, to create happiness for Felix by steering him towards the right people and encouraging him to acknowledge his homosexuality to her. In addition, Greer shows Felix’s personal pain of not fitting in, but desperately trying to do the right thing. These double-layered efforts fit just right with the twin relationship between Greta and Felix.

I’ve read some reviews complaining that the story is confusing. Its complexity did not bother me and, once you get the characters and their lives down, the story drives itself. I felt invested in all three time periods.

Here are some of the things I liked about the book:

  • Greta’s relationship with Nathan in 1941. Her capacity for forgiveness in this time period is very moving.
  • Learning about Patchin Place in New York. It’s fun to imagine what this part of Greenwich Village looked like then and Google Maps shows a great picture of the gated entrance.
Patchin Place in 1910
Patchin Place in 1910
Patchin Place now
Patchin Place now
  • The secret key and room in the Washington Square arch.
  • Greer’s use of three different clocks at the beginning of each chapter, with different times on each face. I can’t figure out what the different times mean, but I like thinking about them anyway.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“There almost has to be a heaven, so there can be a place where all things meet.”

“We are so much more than we assume.”

“What is a perfect world except for the one that needs you?”

“Mark your hour on earth.”

“I understood nothing, Felix. But it was a great show.”

A little bit of fantasy, a little bit of history, a little bit of sadness, and a lot of hope and understanding – this is a great read!

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

The Pieces We Keep by Kristina McMorris

The pieces we keep pic

The Pieces We Keep
by
Kristina McMorris
Rating:
3 book marks1 half bookmark

When young Jack is overcome with anxiety on an airplane, Audra is concerned.  When night terrors interrupt her son’s sleep, she is worried.  But when Audra sees the disturbing and violent pictures Jack has drawn at school, she realizes she has a big problem.

Jack might be acting this way because of his father’s sudden death two years earlier.  Their lives have been full of changes, including a possible new job in Philadelphia for Audra, far from their home in Portland, Oregon.  But there’s no logical explanation for Jack’s night terrors and his sleep connection to World War II, German spies and crashing airplanes.

This is part of the story that unfolds in The Pieces We Keep; a very clever and entertaining story that is, by my own definition, a combination of modern and historical fiction, with a supernatural piece that tries to answer questions of life, death and spirituality.

The other part is a love story that begins in London, at the outset of World War II.  Vivian and Isaak are drawn to each other, but Isaak has a secret.  When the war breaks out, Vivian must return to America.  Isaak plans to join her, but first he must make sure his German family is safe.

I very much enjoyed reading this book, which alternates between modern-day Portland and the years surrounding World War II, in London and New York.  It’s a plot-driven story, full of suspense and cliff-hangers at the end of each chapter, teasers that make you want to keep reading.  Questions about truth and the meaning of names and phrases also keep the story moving.  McMorris definitely has a knack for story-telling and her use of details that resurface with greater meaning is one of the best things about The Pieces We Keep.

I liked certain characters, especially Gene.  He’s the kind of guy you cheer for in books, full of goodness.  I think his reaction to betrayal is the best part of the story, especially the scene with Vivian in the apartment.  (I’m purposely being vague here for to keep out the spoilers!).  Other characters, such as Vivian and Audra, are not as reachable, but I think this works because it is a story about events and ideas, not so much character development.

McMorris’s characters try to understand why death can be tragic and random.  They struggle to find the connections between the past and the present, ties that will promise closure and a good feeling about the present.  There’s a feeling of all her characters reaching the same positive conclusion, which makes for a nice ending.

I prefer endings that aren’t too perfect, and there’s enough left up in the air here to satisfy me.  McMorris leaves the reader to interpret Jack’s dreams, their source and their full meaning, a mystery to the end.

This is a fun and engaging read, with some open questions about present and past!

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

life after life picLife After Life
by
Kate Atkinson

Rating:
5 book marks

This is one of the best books I’ve ever read.  It is a complicated story that begins with both the birth and death of Ursula Todd and moves in different directions as Ursula’s life is saved or rewritten, leaving the reader to wonder whether we are seeing how fate could have taken different turns or if Ursula herself is somehow able to rewind tragedies and try to get them right the next time.

Set in England and beginning in 1910, this story spans both World Wars, but focuses on the period during World War II and the heavy toll it took on Europe. Ursula’s different life paths place her at the center of the German bombings in London for much of the book.  In a separate turn of life, she spends time in Germany and twice almost manages to rewrite Adolf Hitler’s fate.

I spent some time reading reviews of Life After Life and, instead of finding all four- and five-star reviews, I found a considerable number of reviews that complained about how complicated and hard to follow this story is.  I think there is some truth in these comments and the only way to thoroughly enjoy Life After Life is to study it and take notes – it is worth this effort!  I read Life After Life on my Kindle and, although I like paging back and forth with a real book, the “Search” feature made it easy to check on the many details.  As I did all this, I started to see Ursula’s lives as a kind of river, with tributaries taking it in different directions.

Here is the diagram I drew to help me!

River of Life After Life

There are many things I like about Atkinson’s writing style in Life After Life.  She makes many references to animals, particularly foxes, rabbits, dogs and cats, and ties both their influence and fates into the characters.  For example, a seemingly unimportant dog, later named Lucky, changes Ursula’s fate and has a strong positive influence on both Ursula and her brother Teddy.  I like the wholeness of this idea, humans sharing the world with nature and other creatures.

I also like the way Atkinson repeats and ties together phrases and presents them in different scenarios.  The phrase, “Practice makes perfect” is particularly meaningful as Ursula’s lives rewind and play back with different twists.  Sylvie’s frequent comment, “Needs must” is repeated by her daughters at important times and is an example of their mother’s influence, despite their emotional distance from her.  In addition, I think the author’s use of dialogue is great, especially when she ends chapters with a short comment.  What else is there for Izzie to say, for example, when Ursula shows up at her door twice with bad news?  “You’d better come in then.”  That says it all.

Atkinson uses small details that change as this story moves forward and backwards.  These details appear most notably in the scenes with Teddy, Bridget and the Spanish flu.  Ursula’s strong desire to save them leads to a variety of outcomes as do her efforts to save Nancy from an awful fate.  Many iterations of these scenes lead to different outcomes, some ironic, some heartbreaking and I think Atkinson touches on the “What if?” way of thinking that we all experience in our lives.

I think the repetition of Ursula’s apartment being bombed is the strongest part of the story and Atkinson is able to describe these experiences in a way that shows what it must have been like for people living in London during the Blitz.  She tells the story through an omniscient point of view and her use of grim humor shows how Ursula is able to distance herself from this destruction and death.

I always have favorite characters and this time it’s Hugh.  He loves Ursula, makes his point with Sylvie and makes you wish to know someone like him.  Evil characters such as Maurice are easy to hate and there are plenty of in-between characters with complicated traits that make you feel conflicted.

There’s a lot more to Life After Life, most notably Hitler’s treatment of Jews and the ultimate “What if?” question:  Could the Holocaust have been prevented if Hitler had been killed before he became evil?

Ursula asks Ralph, “Don’t you wonder sometimes, if just one small thing had been changed, in the past, I mean.  If Hitler had died at birth, or if someone had kidnapped him as a baby and brought him up in – I don’t know, say, a Quaker household – surely things would be different.”

And Ralph’s answer – “But nobody knows what’s going to happen.  And anyway he might have turned out just the same, Quakers or no Quakers.  You might have to kill him instead of kidnapping him.  Could you do that?  Could you kill a baby?”  So in the end, there is still this dissatisfying answer about fate and stopping evil.

An open ending leaves many questions to this book.  But friendship and love and happiness find a way to develop in even the most terrible scenarios of this story and I think this is the author’s message of hope.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

The Hunger Games: edgy and modern young-adult story

the hunger games pic

The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins

Rating: ****

The familiar theme of a futuristic society takes a new twist in this compelling story of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen in District 12 of Panem, a post-apocalyptic North America. Collins’ story-line is thought-provoking and alarming, as we learn that Katniss and her male counterpart Peeta, must fight to the death against each other and 22 other District Tributes at the annual Hunger Games.

I was nervous while I read this book. I could not imagine how Katniss and Peeta would manage in such a violent arena. I worried at every turn about the dynamics between characters.

There are many conflicts and difficulties and how Katniss, Peeta and the other Tributes confront their problems, align with enemies and for some, ultimately fail, is both fascinating and disturbing.

The movie is very good, too, but as always, the book is better.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

the time travelers picThe Time Traveler’s Wife
by
Audrey Niffenegger

Rating:
2 book marks

The idea of someone who travels between past and present is interesting, if not totally original and I give the author credit for tackling this kind of story. The problem I have, however, is that many of the scenes are uncomfortable and unnatural.

Niffenegger clearly spent a lot of time coordinating the dates of Henry’s appearances and she plants the hints of the story’s end in appropriate places. But the jumping around is too frequent and awkward. To help the reader, Niffenegger supplies an unending supply of references of Chicago, music, stock market activity, pop culture, etc. I get the feeling she Googled every decade from 1960 to present and crammed in all the results.

Not my favorite – this story is a fast, casual read.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

The Silver Crown by Robert C. O’Brien

the silver crown picThe Silver Crown
by
Robert C. O’Brien

Rating:

I really enjoyed this children’s book. My sixth-grader was reading it in school and I decided to read it too.

It’s a story of 10-year-old Ellen who, on her birthday, wakes up to find a jeweled crown on her pillow. Before her family wakes up, Ellen puts the crown in her purse and sneaks out of her house to walk to a nearby park. Soon after, she hears sirens and discovers that her house has burned to the ground and her family is nowhere to be found. And thus begins her journey to find her Aunt Sarah and escape the mysterious people who are chasing her.

Ellen meets many during her time on the run. Some are good and some are evil. Ellen develops a strong bond with 8-year-old Otto, a young boy living in a house in the woods with an old woman he calls his mother. This book has an edge to it that younger kids’ books don’t. There are frightening characters and scary situations and difficult good-byes between Ellen and the people she meets. Despite these losses, many are turned around at the end. I think this book is perfect for a middle school student. The fantasy element allows the reader to experience danger, fright, bravery and loss, with a comfortable ending.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!