Good Books and the Random Movie

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29 March 2013

Count Me In

Count Me In by Sara Leach is the story of a weekend hike gone wrong.

Tabitha has no desire to go hiking with her cousins and aunt. Her parents thought it would be a good idea because she has been having trouble at school and she could use a break. Tabitha doesn't think her cousins, Cedar and Ashley, are much nicer that the kids at school. Plus, their hike to their family's favorite cabin is to spread the ashes of her recently deceased uncle.

Tabitha is not a hiker. She spends her free time studying math. She spent the summer at math camp learning about the Fibonacci sequence. Now she is getting blisters and carrying a giant backpack up the side of a mountain.

A simple hike to say goodbye turns dangerous when rains cut off their escape from the mountain. Between injuries, a lost dog and a hungry bear the weekend will challenge Tabitha in ways that will make school bullying look easy.

Leach has written a quick adventure thriller that will pull readers in from the very first page.

Leach, Sara. (2011). Count Me In. Custer, WA: Orca Books.

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27 March 2013

Lost in Shagri-La

Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff is true story of a plane crash and rescue at the end of World War II in one of the most remote locations on the planet - the interior of the island of New Guinea.

During World War II there was a United States Army base at Hollandia on the North coast of what was, at the time, Dutch New Guinea. The base was used as a stop along the supply route to the fighting in the Pacific between the Allies and Japanese. Planes flew regularly from there to Australia and the Philippines. The island was so mountainous and full of impassable jungle that there were frequent plane crashes - and those planes were never found or recovered. Even a large cargo plane would only make a slight cut into the green of the jungle within thousands of miles of jungle. It was thought by map makers and pilots alike the the entire inland of the country was rocky mountains until on day, a pilot taking a shortcut to a date in Australia discovered a large valley high in the range.

What was named Shangri-La by fans of the book Lost Horizon, was a valley approximately 8 miles by 30 miles. Natives who lived within the valley grew sweet potatoes and lived in grass houses. According to the author, it was not a land that time forgot, but a land that time never even knew existed. Once the valley was discovered, pilots, soldiers and WACs (Women's Army Corp) from Hollandia who were lucky, got to do a flyover and see a place never before discovered by outsiders.

On May 13, 1945, as the war was ending in Europe, in order to raise spirits in the stifling heat and humidity of New Guinea, the base commander arranged for a sight seeing trip for some of the Americans stationed there. Twenty-four people made up of officers, WACs and a couple of enlisted men took what they thought would be a few hour flight to see Shangri-La.

Through a series of events in the plane, added to the maze of mountain passed required to fly through to reach the valley the Gremlin Special, a C-47, crashed into the side of a mountain above a side valley - they had not only crashed, but were 20 miles from where rescue efforts would be focused. The media immediately started following the story, partly due to the fact that unlike other planes that had disappeared in the jungle, this one carried women - a twist for the readers back home.

What follows is a harrowing story of survival, friendly natives, a rescue attempt that first adds 14 people (including two medics) to the stranded, and finally one of the most sensational rescues of WWII. Zuckoff interviewed the last remaining survivor and friends and family of others, plus collected letters, journals and newspaper articles of the time. What he created is nothing short of riveting.

Zuckoff, Mitchell. (2011). Lost in Shangri-La. New York: Harper.

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22 March 2013

Across the Nightingale Floor (Tales of the Otori #1)

Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn is the first book in the Tales of the Otori series set in a land that resembles feudal Japan.

The 3 countries are at an uneasy peace. Lord Iida plans to take over all three countries. He already controls on and the land he won from the Otori in the last battle. But war is not the only way between clans. Otori Shigeru loathes Iida both for his brutality in the previous battle and for stealing his family's land. But even more so, he hates him for the death of Shigeru's brother. While he appears calm, he is plotting his revenge.

Tomasu was raised in a village of pacifists called the Hidden. Their religion teaches them to harm no creatures. Their religion is opposed by  Iida. He and his men are seeking the Hidden and killing them. While Tomasu was picking mushrooms in the hills above his town, Iida and his men raided the village and killed all of the residents. Now Tomasu is running for his life.

Shirakawa Kaede is a hostage. She was taken by Lord Iida and placed in the household of one of his trusted men in order to keep her father in line. Now she is told she will be married off as a bargaining chip to avoid war. She knows not where she is being sent. Indeed she has spend the last 10 years working as a servant instead of being educated as a woman of her class.

Hearn has created a wonderful series. She captures the feel of feudal Japan and weaves her stories around the culture and art of time period. Readers will race to read the entire series. There are five books in the Tales of the Otori series.

Hearn, Lian. (2002). Across the Nightingale Floor. New York: Riverhead Books.

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18 March 2013

The Buckhorn Legacy (Buckhorn #5)

The Buckhorn Legacy by Lori Foster is the fifth story in the Buckhorn series about four brothers, and now one son, who live in the town of Buckhorn, Kentucky.

Casey Hudson was raised by his father and his father's three brothers. His father and uncles were sought after company in town due to both their looks and their manner - each of them would do whatever it took to help anyone in the community. Now, eight years after the previous book, Casey is all grown up and being followed all over town by the single women.

Emma Clark left town eight years ago and never planned on coming back to Buckhorn. In order to escape the life she was in she faked a pregnancy, named Casey the father and allowed her own father to throw her out of the house. She was only thinking to buy some time while she explained to Casey that she had lied and that she needed a safe place to spend the night. But before morning, Emma disappeared. Casey, his father, and his uncles looked everywhere for her.

Now eight years later, Emma is back in town because her father has suffered a stroke. But on her way into town her car overheated and she found herself stuck on the side of the road. And the first car to find her happened to be driven by Casey - the boy she has never forgotten.

Foster's sweet story of two people reconnecting after years apart will appeal to all romance readers. She has a loyal group of readers for a reason and Buckhorn Legacy is the perfect example of why.

Foster, Lori. (2013). The Buckhorn Legacy. New York: HQN.

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14 March 2013

A Chant to Soothe Wild Elephants

A Chant to Soothe Wild Elephants by Jaed Coffin is the story of one multicultural man's journey to connect with half of his heritage.

Jaed Coffin was born to a Thai mother and American father. He grew up in Brunswick, Maine with visits to his mother's home village of Ponomsarakram, Thailand. Each trip to Thailand reminded him of how American he was and each trip home left him wondering how he could become more Thai.

Once his grandfather died, his mother no longer took him to Thailand, but at his grandfather's funeral a monk asked his mother to send him back to spend time at the temple when he grew up. Years later in college, Jaed decided to spend some time being a monk to find his Thai heritage.

Knowing few words in the language, and after years of not seeing his Thai relatives, Jaed traveled to Panomsarakram. He was initiated as a Buddhist monk, shaved his head and donned orange robes.

For three months, Jaed stayed at the temple. A Chant to Soothe Elephant is the story of that time in his life and what he learned and failed to learn as a monk, how he connected and failed to connect to Thai culture and the time spent learning to meditate, or not.

Coffin, Jaed. (2008). A Chant to Soothe Wild Elephants. Philadelphia: DeCapo.

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13 March 2013

Hattie Ever After (Hattie Brooks #2)

Hattie Ever After by Kriby Larson is the long awaited follow up to her Hattie Big Sky novel about a young woman who attempted to be a homesteader in Montana in the early 1900s.

Now that Hattie Inez Brooks has failed to meet the criteria for keeping the homestead claim left to her by an uncle she never knew, she must decide where life will take her next. She grew up being passed from one relative to another and does not wish to go back Iowa. She has had some letter published in a paper back home and longs to be a real reporter like Nelly Bly.

When a vaudevillian troupe comes through town on their way to San Fransisco, Hattie joins them as a wardrobe girl - repairing costumes to pay her way West. San Fransisco in 1919 is a magical time and place in the history of the United States and Hattie will attempt to get a job a newspaper.

Larson is a through researcher and has captured life in 1919 California, after the big earthquake, when one of the great debates was whether women, who were shoved into the workforce during WWI, should work outside the home. Her stories are fascinating and Hattie is one of the most loveable historical characters ever created, sort of a young American version of a Maisie Dobbs - someone who was not satisfied to remain relegated to her proscribed societal role based solely on her gender.

Larson, Kirby. (2013). Hattie Ever After. New York: Delacourte Press.

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11 March 2013

Daughter of the Sword (Fated Blades #1)

Daughter of the Sword by Steve Bein is the first book in his Fated Blades series - written around three swords created by Master Inazuma who put so much focus into his work that his swords are said to be cursed / magical.

Mariko Oshiro is a police detective in Toyko. The only female detective in the city. She is surrounded by a tradition and culture that does not have female officers for anything higher than meter maid. Some blame her quest for a man's job on the fact that she lived in the United States as a teen. Either way, she is working in Narcotics on a one year probation during which she has to prove she belongs. And her new lieutenant has promised to make sure she fails.

So instead of working on drug cases, Mariko has been loaned out to a suburb to investigate the attempted theft of an ancient sword. Professor Yasou Yamada is a scholar of all things Samurai. Someone, and Mariko thinks he knows who, has tried to steal a sword created by Master Inazuma and said to have mystical powers over the one who wields it. While Mariko is too modern to believe in the magical legend of the sword, she has a lot to learn from Dr. Yamada.

Bein has created a legend and woven it within a modern mystery. With flash backs highlighting some of the men who have owned Inazuma's swords, this well crafted blend of story types will appeal to a variety of readers. Daughter of the Sword is a beautifully written story. I will be stalking the author until he completes the next installment in the series.

Bein, Steve. (2012). Daughter of the Sword. NY: Penguin.

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06 March 2013

The Eden Prophecy (Danielle Laidlaw #3)

The Eden Prophecy by Graham Brown is the third book in his Danielle Laidlaw series. Laidlaw works for the NRI, a government agency that works with advancements in technology - with a secret division tasked to steal new technology or stop others from using new technology to destroy the world.

The US Ambassador working at the United Nations receives an envelope that tells her she has been infected with a virus. As the NRI works with the Centers for Disease Control to find out what the virus does and if it is contagious, Danielle Laidlaw and Hawker (an ex-CIA agent turned NRI operative) try to track the source of the virus.

The source of the virus is a man Hawker worked for years ago in Africa. He was a man obsessed with finding the scientific equivalent of the fountain of youth. But now Ranga is dead. The group he was working for is attempting to synthesize a virus to infect people with long life - a goal that would lead to vast overpopulation taxing the Earth beyond its limits to sustain life. And now the only person who could finish Ranga's work is his daughter Sonia. Hawker and Laidlaw have to find her before the bad guys.

Brown has created a series in the genre of James Rollins - science based thrillers that take some new discovery or ancient text and create a crazy ride of plausible twists that readers love to follow. Laidlaw is a great character who is capable and fun to follow.

Brown, Graham. (2012). The Eden Prophecy. New York: Bantam Books.

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01 March 2013

Ragnarok (Chess Team #4)

Ragnarok by Jeremy Robinson is the fourth book in his Chess Team series about a an elite black ops team that is tasked with any extraordinary threats.

After losing his whole team Rook decided to take some time to himself to process. He ended up in Norway in a town where suddenly all of the people are acting strangely. In the mean time, the Chess Team is looking for him because there are strange phenomenon occurring around the world.

Globes of light have been appearing in various cities around the world. When they disappear again all that was inside goes with them - buildings, people, cars, everything. The Chess Team must figure out how to find one before it leaves so they can try to find out what they are, what is causing them, and how to stop them.

Robinson, writing this time with Kane Gilmour, has created a series that will appeal to fans of military fiction, science fiction, and more. The Chess Team is an unstoppable force.

Robinson, Jeremy. (2012). Ragnarok. St. Augustine, FL: Seven Realms Publishing.

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