Insurgent by Veronica Roth
Allegiant, the third novel by Veronica Roth, goes on sale today, and is sure to be a young adult bestseller. I recently finished reading Insurgent, the sequel to Divergent. This dystopian series is set in a future Chicago, and the architecture of the Loop makes a good backdrop for the series. Tris Prior, who earlier picked the daredevil Dauntless faction over the humble Abnegation of her upbringing and over the intellectual Erudite, has an exciting scene in Insurgent when she and others cross the Chicago river from underneath a bridge, and try to break into the Erudite headquarters. But I didn’t find this book as interesting or exciting as Divergent. There are so many characters that the author expects you to remember from the first book, and I didn’t. Tris feels guilty for an act she was compelled to take in the first book, and is still mourning some of her family. Her boyfriend Tobias wishes Tris wouldn’t be so reckless, frequently risking her life, but Tris doesn’t understand her own motivations. In this book, the Factionless are introduced, and are shown to be other than the powerless outsiders Tris expected. The factions are still alternately fighting, being controlled by simulations, and working together. It’s not uncommon for middle books of a trilogy to be the weakest, and I hope Allegiant is everything Roth’s fans are hoping for.
Battle Magic by Tamora Pierce
Tamora Pierce is a young adult fantasy writer known for her strong, usually female characters. This book follows after Street Magic, and is set before Melting Stones in the Circle Opens series. Briar Moss is a young plant mage, traveling with his mentor Rosethorn and his student Evvy, a stone mage. They are welcome in Gyongxe, which feels like a version of Tibet, where they meet the young god-king, and travel in the mountains. Rosethorn is invited to visit the Emperor Weishu in neighboring Yanjing, and tour his magnificent gardens. They quickly learn that he is cruel and greedy, and rescue one of his captives. Traveling with a caravan out of Yanjing, they learn that Gyongxe is to be attacked by Weishu’s armies, and feel compelled to help. Along the way, Evvy is captured and takes refuge with Luvo, a mountain deity. Rosethorn and Briar Moss are startled by small gods coming to life to protect their mountain home, and they learn how awful war can be, especially when they have to choose between using their powers to heal or helping win the battle. This is a darker book then many by the author, and I would suggest starting with Street Magic, or even earlier with the Magic Circle books.
The White Cascade by Gary Krist
February, 1910 was a very unfortunate month to be a passenger or an employee on the Great Northern Railway. A record-breaking blizzard trapped two trains high in the Cascade Mountains of Washington. A fast mail train and a passenger train were snowed in for several days at the small Wellington Station before disaster struck. On March 1, a huge avalanche swept both trains down the mountainside in the middle of the night. Through the stories of the survivors, telegrams, letters, diaries, and court records, Gary Krist brings the past to life, letting the reader get acquainted with the passengers, railroad workers, mail clerks, and even the railway management, and then hoping the people will escape before the avalanche or be rescued afterwards. A truly moving, fast-paced account of a major railway disaster and its aftermath, as well as a history of the Great Northern Railway.
The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel
Reporter Lily Koppel, who wasn’t born until after the last Apollo mission, became fascinated by a photo of the astronaut wives in Life magazine, and wanted to learn their stories, which have never been told. The wives of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts were suddenly thrust into the spotlight after years of living quietly on drab military bases. The astronauts had training, all kinds of it, but the Mercury wives didn’t even get any advice from NASA on how to handle their new roles. Life magazine had exclusive access to the astronauts and their families, but their photos and stories didn’t tell the real story; the emotional side of the space race. The wives strove to be supportive while raising their children and maintaining their homes almost single handedly while worrying about their husbands when they were training or on a mission. They did meet monthly, in an informal group, and were always there to be supportive during missions or after a death, but didn’t share all of their fears and doubts until years later. Many of the marriages crumbled under the stress. Today, many of the astronaut wives are still friends, and are now telling what they remember of those stressful, exciting years when they rode in parades, went to balls and the White House, and were married to men who became instant celebrities.
Treecat Wars by David Weber and Jane Lindskold
On pioneer planet Sphinx, human settlers have recently encountered a six-legged species known as treecats. Developers planning to buy large tracts of forested land where the treecats live in family groups are hoping that the treecats are not declared sentient. As the reader quickly learns, they are not only sentient, they are empathic and telepathic, and can bond with humans. Their strong advocate, teen Stephanie Harrington, is away with treecat Lionheart for more training as a forest ranger, along with Karl, son of a recently discredited xenoanthropologist. Their friend Jessica, with treecat Valiant, and Anders, Stephanie’s boyfriend, are the only ones who can help when recent forest fires drive one clan of treecats out of their home territory and into the fringes of another clan’s territory, which reacts with unexpected violence. This is the third book featuring Stephanie and Lionheart, following A Beautiful Friendship and Fire Season. The series, written for teens, provides a fascinating look at another species that is very different from ours, as well as a coming-of-age story.
The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan
This is the story of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, one of the Manhattan Project’s secret cities, and several of the women who lived and worked there. From 1942 until the end of World War II, several huge factories were constructed to enrich uranium to make plutonium for atomic bombs. At one point, over 75,000 people lived in a city that wasn’t on any map until 1949. Many of the workers were young women recruited from small towns across the south, and sent by train to a secret destination. The author interviewed dozens of these women, and focuses on ten of them, who worked a variety of jobs in Oak Ridge, including janitor, welder, machine operator, secretary, nurse, statistician, and chemist. Except for the chemist, the women had no idea about the nature of the project, as there was high security everywhere. Anyone who talked about their job faced eviction from the town. Housing, much of it temporary, was in high demand, from huts to trailers to dormitories. There was mud everywhere, yet there was also a sense of community. These young women worked and lived in an odd mix of freedom, away from families and home towns, and with restrictions. Some married couples couldn’t even live together, and there was racial segregation. When the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the community of Oak Ridge reacted with a mixture of shock, pride, guilt, and shame. They had helped end the war, but with a high cost. The author has tied the stories of these women together in the memorable story of a little known chapter of the war.
Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole
Recuperating from an injury, University of Illinois college student David Graham enjoys reading the poetry of Elspeth Dunn, and writes her a fan letter. This begins a correspondence of several years before and during World War I. Elspeth is married to sullen Iain, her brother Finlay’s best friend, and lives on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Afraid to leave the island, Elspeth leads a somewhat narrow life. She writes poetry, roams around the island, and worries about her husband and brother in World War I, and then about David when he volunteers as an ambulance driver in France. A parallel story is set in Edinburgh and London in 1940, where Elspeth’s daughter Margaret tries to learn about her past after her mother disappears after an air raid, and also worries about her boyfriend Paul, in the war. Told through letters, this double love story reminds me of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows, although it’s not quite as memorable. A quick read, with humor, romance, and drama, recommended for fans of historical fiction or family sagas.
Do you remember seeing the Milky Way? Has it been a while? I remember seeing it, probably growing up in the suburbs and definitely on camping trips, but not for many years. Paul Bogard eloquently describes the artificial brightening of our skies at night, and why this matters. He travels around Europe, North America, and to some islands to talk with lighting designers, night shift workers, park rangers, naturalists, and astronomers to discuss light pollution and to observe the wonders of the night sky in some of the Northern Hemisphere’s darkest places. More energy-efficient, shielded light fixtures can go a long way to limit light pollution and reduce energy usage, and the author explores whether brightly light streets, buildings, and parking lots are the safest. Most of all, he shares with readers the wonders to be found in experiencing the sky at night.
The Shade of the Moon by Susan Beth Pfeffer
What happens after the world as we know it changes forever? According to author Susan Beth Pfeffer, love and family ties are still important, but life can be rather bleak. This is the story of Jon Evans and his extended family, four years after a meteor struck the Moon and moved it closer to Earth. His sister Miranda narrated the first book in the series, Life as We Knew It. Now it’s little brother Jon’s turn to grow up. Jon isn’t always likeable, as he is the privileged younger brother with better food, less work, and even filtered air on the bus that takes his soccer team to games. He lives with his stepmother Lisa and little brother Gabe in upper-class Sexton, rarely seeing the rest of his family, who live in working-class White Birch. His conflicted relationship with his sister Miranda and his guilt over the loss of a friend make Jon a realistic character. When a riot after a soccer game changes his life dramatically, he has some hard choices to make. Sarah, a doctor’s daughter, and Ruby, Lisa’s domestic worker, help open his mind to the injustices of life for those in White Birch.
Night Film by Marisha Pessl
From the title, this sounds like a dark book, and it is. A combination of horror and mystery, the novel is centered around the activities of Stanilas Cordova, a genius movie director, who produced a limited and very notorious group of films made in the seventies and eighties that were so malevolent and disturbing that they were banned from being viewed in theaters and thus could only be seen through special viewings set up by his cult of followers, called Cordovites. These viewings took place in hidden underground venues. The movies were produced on Cordova’s secluded and highly secure residence, surrounded by an twenty foot high impenetrable concrete barrier. All the actors are hired not so much for their talent as their ability to keep a secret. Cordova has not given an interview or been seen in thirty years. There are rumors that these movies Cordova has been making are “snuff” films” but there is no evidence.
The plot begins with the suicide of Stanilas’s daughter, Ashley Cordova, a gorgeous, brilliant child and a piano prodigy. Scott McGrath, a veteran journalist, suspects that Ashley’s death is not a suicide, and with two young people who knew Ashley intimately, sets out to discover the “Truth”. As they probe deeper into the Oeuvre of the secretive director, the trail leads through depraved night clubs, secluded apartment buildings and ultimately to The Peak, the mystery shrouded Adirondack estate of Cordova, which has been long been abandoned.
The book is full of page turning excitement, and not a few dark gruesome scenes. However the end of the book resembles Captain Willard’s search for the enigmatic Colonel Kurtz in the movie “Apocalypse Now”. Can the true horror of people ever be known. As Colonel Kurtz says at the end of the movie, “The Horror, the Horror”.