Gracefully Grayson

cover48943-smallGracefully Grayson

Ami Polonsky

Hyperion

This middle grade novel follows Grayson’s in sixth grade at Porter School. He is a quiet boy who doesn’t fit in and doesn’t do any activity after school. He lives with his aunt and uncle and cousins and barely remembers his parents who died in a car crash years before.

The story opens with Grayson drawing secret princesses in his notebook in Humanities class. The princesses, along with his ability to imagine himself looking different are a secret he guards close to his heart.

Two things happen to upset the quiet, safe existence that Grayson lives at Porter School in Chicago. The first is that he meets Amelia on the bus home. She is the first friend he’s made in years. The second thing is that Mr. Finn announces that they will produce a play called Persephone and tryouts are open to everyone. Grayson decides to try out, though he’s sure that all the parts will go to the older students.

At the try out Grayson decides to try out for the lead role, the part of Persephone herself. When he is given the role it sends ripples out through his world to change him and the people around him.

I asked to read this book because it is about a young transgendered person. With more and more children declaring themselves transgendered at ever younger ages I was very curious as to how Ami was going to tackle the issue. What she does is is come at Grayson’s identity with a subtlety and care that never lets him be anything other than a healthy, well rounded character. This is not a story about a transgendered kid. This is Grayson’s story told with humour and insight.
I recommend this book to people who like a good story. It is middle grade, but I enjoyed it as an adult and I’m sure it has a wide range of interest. This is not a book to be relegated to the “gender sensitivity” book shelf. It should be read and enjoyed by anyone.

 

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The Northern Star: Civil War

The Northern Star: Civil War

Mike Gullickson

This second book in the Northern Star trilogy picks up about a decade after the closing events of The Beginning. Raimey, who sacrificed his physical humanity in the service of his country, is now just the first among many Tank Majors. He is surrounded by Minors, all of whom have undergone the radical surgery to make them into cybernetic soldiers.

The price of saving his country was losing his daughter. She sees him as a monster who abandoned her and her dying mother when they needed him the most. Raimey still fights for his country, but the ghost of his beloved wife haunts him and his handlers are concerned that he is no longer quite sane.

War in brewing on the internet as Evan tries to build himself into a god. Cynthia is the only one with a chance to stop him, but the cost is horrific.

It is easy to follow this book if you’ve read the first. It is possible to pick up the story quickly if you can’t find it, but The Beginning is well worth reading and the background makes this book more enjoyable. Civil War is one of those books that is just hard to put down. There is so much complexity and breadth of character that I kept reading just one more chapter. If anything it is superior to the first book since it builds on a world that is already established and we don’t need to learn our way around.

I recommend this book to those who like adventure and war stories that are truly futuristic.

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The Chaplain’s War

cover50097-mediumThe Chaplain’s War

Brad R. Torgersen

Baen Books

I am always fascinated by books that tackle the subject of faith in a science fiction setting. The Chaplain’s War is set in a future in which humanity is caught in a losing war with the Mantis cyborgs. These aliens are much more advance in technology than the humans and quickly have them on the run. Chaplain’s Assistant Harrison Barlow is trapped on a planet where the Mantis have enclosed them with a force field and ignored them. That is until a different kind of Mantis shows up and asks Barlow to explain faith to him. Barlow inadvertently brokers a cease fire while they explore the question.

Once he is known to both the Mantis and Human chains of command he is the logical person to move the cease fire to a permanent truce. If only both sides weren’t determined to start the war up again.

I have to admit that I was annoyed at the beginning that in a book that centers around faith, that the main character exhibits so little. Patience is rewarded as we learn why he’s a chaplain’s assistant and why the Mantis civilization needs him as much as the humans.

I recommend the book to sci fi readers of all interests. This is not a book that preaches, but it explores the nature of faith and its place in our universe. The characters are complex and interesting on both sides of the conflict.

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Shadow Swarm

cover49625-mediumShadow Swarm

D. Robert Pease

Evolved Publishing

Aberthol Nauile wakes up in a tomb and doesn’t know who he is. The people around him tell him he is the King, come to save them from the blackest enemy. His triumphant return becomes an ambush and he must flee with the granddaughter of a man he wasn’t able to save. They meet up with her exiled father and learn that the situation is even worse than they thought. The only person who can save them is Aberthol, if he can only remember how.

I enjoyed reading a book that is complete in itself. I enjoy a trilogy when it is well done, but it is nice to have a book that begins and ends satisfactorily in one volume. Shadow Swarm is a great read. The main character is complex and the people of the land who he is to save are unique and varied. One may think that the plot of a chosen person to save a country from a dark overlord is a plot that has seen its day, but the author puts his own spin on the plot and weaves us in and out of time to riveting conclusion.

I recommend the book for people who like fantasy, especially epic fantasy.

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Blightborn

cover50117-mediumBlightborn

Chuck Wendig

Cael and his friends are trying to find a way to rescue his sister and find his love Gwennie. Cael has enemies on the ground that he knows, but his family history means he has enemies he doesn’t know exist, and they are determined to kill him.

Gwennie has her own problems up in the sky. She wants to find her family, but her life is very curtailed. There are people who are very interested in making sure that she doesn’t succeed. There are politics in the Empyrean, and in the Heartland that result in a heart-stopping conclusion.

Blightborn is the second book in a trilogy. You will know this as soon as you start reading. It picks up the action immediately following the first book and there is no recap or time taken to orient the reader to the characters or the story so far.

I found as I went along that i was able to piece together what was happening, who was who, and why it was important, but I suggest that you read the first book, then read this one. I recommend the book because it is a very different dystopian view of the future. The elite live in flying cities while the workers slave on the dry ground. The only thing that grows is a form of semi-sentient corn.

The characterization is brilliantly done. All the people in the book are different with their own goals and desires. The mix and conflict of those desires makes for a story that keeps us reading and wondering how it can possibly work out.

I recommend the book for any who enjoy complex character driven stories, but I suggest you read Under the Empyrean Sky first.

 

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Wolf

cover50334-smallWolf

Jim Ringel

Wolf is a strange and twisting tale of a failing salesman. Johnny Wolfe carries bits of his dog in a vial in a pocket. Dogs are extinct because his cop ex-wife led the hunt to exterminate them. Thus it is complicated when an associate dies from a dog attack. He steals a sales order from the dead man. It’s a big sale and the commission would set him up for a year and perhaps impress his ex-wife enough to return to him.

The problem Johnny has is that his ex-wife doesn’t believe in dogs, and he becomes a suspect in his colleague’s death. It doesn’t help that he doesn’t know what he is trying to sell or what it does.

Johnny is an anti-hero in the tradition of Willie in Death of a Salesman. He is alternatively devious and incompetent. The reality of the dogs and what he is selling is creepy enough, but it is hard work to get there. The story asks for a lot from the reader as we wade through sales aphorisms and Johnny’s inability to achieve anything.

The concept of the story is interesting, but I had to struggle to get past the slow story and a bevy of characters who are all devious and incompetent in their own ways. I really wanted to like the book for the sake of the concept, but I can’t recommend this book.

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The Emperor’s Edge

The Emperor’s Edge

Lindsay Buroker

The Emperor’s Edge is a book that sneaks up on you. It begins with Amaranthe Lokdon, one of very few female enforcers working for the Emperor. She gets into trouble with her superior covering for her somewhat ne’er do well partner. We are expecting a swords and sorcery police procedural and from first looks a pretty good one. She comes to the notice of the Emperor, and the powers behind the young Emperor decide to set her up by sending her off to kill the most efficient assassin of their day. This is when the book really starts to get interesting and leaves the police procedural behind.

Amaranthe learns that it is no possible to be loyal to her Emperor and remain an enforcer. She puts together a very unlikely ragtag group of people, including the assassin she was sent to kill and set out to stop the people who threaten the Emperor and the country she serves.

The characters are well drawn, and what is more they learn and grow during the course of the book. The plot is suitably twisted and we get to enjoy her antics as she avoids people on all sides trying to kill her. This book looks to be the first of a series and I hope the following books live up to the standard Buroker has set with this first one.

 

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The Map to Everywhere

The Map to Everywhere

Carrie Ryan & John Parke Daviscover46486-medium

Little, Brown and Company

Nobody remembers Fin. Even if he is standing right in front of them. Friendships are very hard, but it makes thieving much simpler. Marril loves adventure, so she is horrified when she learns that her mother is sick and they’ve decided to live in one spot.

A slip of paper on an errant breeze brings the two together. Marril is the only person who remembers Fin, who struggles with the need for friendship. The unlikely pair sail the Pirate Stream with a cranky wizard and a young looking Captain looking for the pieces of the Map to Everywhere.

The Map to Everywhere is a delight. From the wonderfully almost gibberish names to the diverse and creative adventures to the blossoming friendship between Fin and Marril, the story carries us along. The plot is much more complex than I expected with some very neat twists and turns and a remarkably different way of looking at prophecy.

The book promises to be the first in a series and I’ll be looking out for the next one. I recommend this book to people of all ages who like great adventure stories.

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The Earl of Brass

The Earl of Brass

Kara Jorgensen

Fox Collie Publishing

We meet Eilan Sorrell as he goes down in an airship crash on the way home from the Negev. He loses an arm in the crash and very nearly his life. While the doctors are able to save him, he fears that he will have no purpose. He has refused to become a dilettante heir and has always worked on archeological digs. Eilan’s interests set him at political odds with most of his family.

Hadley is the name of the woman who crafts Eilan’s artificial arm. The arm is the last work of her brother George and she unreasonably dislikes Eilan for that reason. When she discovers her brother’s notes about how to make a functional artificial limb, Eilan is the best candidate for the job.

I like the book in spite of some technical issues. There is a bit of head hopping, but it isn’t severe enough to push me out of an engaging story. The author also tries a little too hard for my taste to say something with her book, but again, it stays in service to the story and thus forgivable. The characters of Eilan and Hadley are very well drawn, and even the bit parts stay away from predictable caricatures.

I recommend The Earl of Brass to lovers of steampunk and adventure stories.

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The Silver Rings

cover45511-mediumThe Silver Rings

Samuel Valentino

Brattle Publishing Group

 

Twins Celia and Alice decide to escape their stepmother. They have very different ideas of where would be a good place to escape to with one preferring the city and the other the wilderness. Their very hands off fairy godmother suggests they split up and gives them each a silver ring to help them keep track of their sister. She also gives them lizard skins as disguises. The rings will turn red if one of the sisters is in trouble. It doesn’t take long and we are off on a romp.

The book is written very tongue and cheek so there is as much fun for the adult as for the younger reader. This is a great book for reading out loud, especially if one is prone to doing different voices while reading. The illustrations are fun and complement the story.

I like that sisters are so different in temperament, though they are identical twins. They are also independent and smart, dealing with life on their own terms. This book is fun and well written. It winks at a large number of fairy tales, some of them not terribly well known. Half of the fun is recognizing another story being hinted at.

I would recommend the book for people of all ages who like a good story .

 

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