Tuesday, September 30, 2014

On The Fence by Kasie West

On The Fence is a poignant coming-of-age story about a girl growing into womanhood  who struggles to remember the mother she misses and to unravel her deepening feelings for the boy next door.

Charlotte (Charlie)Reynolds is sixteen years old and lives with her policeman father and her three brothers, Jerom, Nathan and Gage. Her neighbour, Braden Lewis is almost always at her home so he too is like a fourth brother to Charlie. Charlie is a pure tomboy, keen about sports and involved in running, soccer and basketball and roughhousing with her brothers. Her mother died when she was six and Charlie has few precious memories of her. Now a teenager, Charlie finds she misses having a mother around to guide her through the ins and outs of dating, boys and makeup.

When Charlie acquires a second speeding ticket, her dad insists she get a job to pay him back for the tickets and as insurance against any future tickets. Charlie doesn't want to work, but with the help of brother Gage, she manages to get hired on by Linda who owns a clothing store, Linda's Bazaar. Linda is an earthy woman whose motherly concern for Charlie manifests itself in helping Charlie purchase suitable clothing for working in the boutique. Charlie has to wear something other than her typical t-shirt, jeans and beat up sneakers.

Lately Charlie has seen the nightmares about her mother return and when she can't sleep she decides to go sit out in the backyard by the fence. For the past four years, Charlie has found that running before bed made her tired enough to sleep through the night, helping to avoid the recurring nightmares. But lately running hasn't worked. One night in her backyard she witnesses Braden's father coming home drunk, yelling at Braden and his mom. Upset at what she's witnessed, Charlie talks to Braden through their shared fence. Soon they find themselves meeting frequently in the middle of the night, Charlie on her side of the fence, Braden on his side. They talk about Braden's family problems and Charlie's life. Charlie challenges Braden to a game to see who knows more about the other.

Meanwhile Charlie begins to enjoy her job at Linda's. She finds Linda to be a kind manager who encourages her. However, when Linda makes a general remark about Charlie's mother, instead of telling Linda that her mother died, Charlie acts as though her mother is still alive. This little lie unsettles Charlie, but she's tired of being pitied when people ask.

When a girl drops off ads for make up demos at the store, Linda suggests that Charlie sign up to be a makeup model. Charlie agrees to do this, forging her dead mother's signature on the permission paper. Unable to sleep after doing this, Charlie meets Braden at the fence in the middle of the night confessing her guilt over what she's done in a sort of general way.

The make up demo goes well, with Amber doing basic makeup of Charlie's face. Amber's friendly and an Olympic chatter which makes the session pass easily. Charlie who was dreading the session because she is completely out of her league when it comes to girly things, finds it not quite so bad. When she discovers how much money she can make from just one session Charlie agrees to do a second one.

Gradually Charlie begins to realize that she's falling in love with Braden, but he doesn't seem to reciprocate her feelings. Charlie can't stop the way she feels but she knows she has to. "I needed to stop the way my body was reacting to Braden lately. We were friends. Too close to ever want to explore these stupid new reactions and risk losing him forever."

Charlie meets a new guy, Evan, when she goes out with Amber and her friends after the second make-up session. When Evan, who in Charlies eyes is "hot and nice" learns she is a sports nut, he invites her to come with him to see an Oakland Athletics baseball game. It's supposed to be a double date but Charlie knows she can't invite Braden because Amber and her new guy, Dustin will likely come with them.

Things between Charlie and Braden become strained when one night Charlie thinks he's going to tell her that he has feelings for her but instead Braden tells her that he wanted to talk about something very different. Embarrassed and humiliated Charlie leaves. "Of course, Braden didn't like me like that. I was his buddy, his pal, his sister. A burly girl who played sports. The only way a guy would ever like me was with a thick layer of makeup."

This seems to make things easier for Charlie to date Evan because she assumes that Braden simply views her as one of the guys and not a girl who could be a potential girlfriend/date. But when Braden fills in for Amber's date who falls ill, his behaviour seems to suggest that he is jealous. Evan doesn't know Charlie very well but assumes she is like other girls, clueless about sports, especially baseball and into nice clothes and makeup. Braden tells Charlie that he's not the right person for her since she can't be herself around him. Charlie knows she's faking it but maybe this is what she has to do to get a guy interested. These mixed feelings make it hard for Charlie to cope with having Braden around and she wonders how do you stay friends with someone you've fallen for?

On The Fence is a sweet story that touches on the themes of identity, honesty and first love, all of which are interconnected. Charlie has always been seen as "one of the guys" but she begins to wonder if that means guys aren't attracted to in her. Does she have to change who she is to get a date and should she? She becomes aware of this when she goes to Woodward Park to play disc golf with her brothers and they find a girl's lost Frisbee with her contact information on it. While her older brother Jerom thinks it's "hot" that a girl plays disc golf, Gage says, " 'I don't know. A girl who plays disc golf? She's probably a dog. Some aggressive, burly thing.'
The guys laughed...Maybe that's how they saw me. Maybe that's how most guys saw me."

Later on as Charlie begins dating Evan she feels that she must be a different kind of girl than who she is - one who wears makeup and different clothing, who doesn't know about baseball and definitely someone who doesn't play tackle football with the guys. When Braden sees Charlie behaving differently around Evan he tells her "If you can't be yourself around him, then you shouldn't be dating him." But Charlie challenges Braden asking him how many of the guys they know have raced to ask her out. "If they want someone to date, they go to the mall or the club and find a girl who wears tight clothes and does her nails and giggles at their jokes.... Guys don't want a competitor, they want a cheerleader." Seeing Charlie sitting out a tackle football game, Braden again reminds her, "You don't have to change for a guy," telling her that by compromising, she isn't showing Evan the real Charlie.


Charlie's dishonesty with Evan is mirrored in her other relationships with Linda whom she lied to about her mother. Charlie's struggle to find her own identity and to accept it comes to a head when her lies to Linda are revealed, causing Linda disappointment and hurt and bringing down the wrath of her father.  Charlie feels guilt because she knows Linda understands her and is able to help her understand herself and she recognizes she needs someone like this in her life as the men around her cannot provide this much needed insight. Charlie reveals to her father why she lied about her mother's death and asks  him to explain what happened to her mother. She learns that her father and brothers were trying to protect her from the truth of her mother's death, but in doing so they prevented Charlie from coming to terms with her death and healing.

By the end of the novel, Charlie comes to a sort of self-acceptance which allows her to tell both Evan and Braden the truth. She also accepts that her athleticism is a good thing but that she also might want to be open to stepping out of her comfort zone and using a bit of makeup for special occasions. Things like makeup and nice dresses don't make her anything less than who she is. They don't take away her identity.

Charlie is a believable character, and West does a great job filling in her character as the story progresses. Like many sixteen year old girls, she's just figuring herself out, what her strengths are, how to navigate the world of boys and relationships, how to deal with uncomfortable conversations and coming to terms with a family tragedy that happened ten years earlier.

On The Fence is a gentle romance and coming of age story that will appeal to many readers. Kasie West has placed another great read on the bookshelf.

Book Details:
On The Fence by Kasie West
New York: HarperCollins Children's Books    2014
293 pp.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Noisy Paintbox by Barb Rosenstock

"I let myself go. I had little thought for house and trees, drawing colored lines and blobs on the canvas with my palette knife, making them sing just as powerfully as I knew how." Vasily Kandinsky

This historical fiction picture book, written for children, succinctly tells the story of Vasily Kandinsky, a Russian born artist who created abstract art.

Rosenstock's The Noisy Paintbox serves as a nice introduction to this innovative and very important 20th century painter. The basics of Kandinsky's early life - his interest in art and his following of his parent's expectations for him to become a lawyer are told. But Kandinsky experienced colour and music in a different way from most other people - colour produced noise and music, and music often represented colours. Kandinsky became determined paint after several life-changing experiences and his paintings changed the art world forever.

Rosenstock's vivid text works to convey the emotions and colours of Kandinsky's abstract art. "Snapping cerulean points. Crunching crimson squares. Whispering charcoal lines." evoke images in the imagination that speak of Kandinsky's abstract art. Mary Grandpre's bright artwork created using acrylic paint and paper collage enables young readers to understand just how unique Kandinsky's art was while also telling part of the story.

The back of the book has a short biography on Vasily Kandinsky and several small pictures of his artwork. There is also a list of print sources as well as online resources for further investigation.

Kandinsky was born in Moscow, Russian in 1866. His father ran a tea factory in Odessa where the family moved in 1871. Vasily grew up in a cultured home and was well educated. He studied piano and cello and even took some art lessons. However, Vasily's parents expected him to become a lawyer and that is what he did.

He attended Moscow University to study law where he eventually became an Associate Professor. Vasily married Anna Chimyakima and they moved to Tartu where he become a Professor of Law at Derpt University. However, two events were to have a profound effect on Vasily; during an exhibition of Claude Monet's Haystacks he experienced a strong emotional reaction and the same thing happened at a performance of Richard Wagner's opera, "Lohengrin".

These unusual sensory experiences in which Vasily Kandinsky experienced sounds as colours were not unusual for him; he had experienced this sort of thing as a child. It is quite likely that Vasily Kandinsky had a rare genetic condition known as synesthesia in which one sense triggers a reaction in another sense. It was these experiences that motivated Vasily to leave the law profession to become a full time artist.

Arab city  1905  http://www.wassilykandinsky.net/work-299.php
Vasily left Russia and traveled to Munich, Germany where he first studied with Anton Azbe and later with Franz Stuck. In 1903, he divorced his wife and spent the next five years traveling with his companion, Gabriela Munter.

At first Kandinsky's paintings were exquisite, colourful landscapes such as Arab City or Forest Landscape with Red Figure, reminiscent of Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and Fauvism. Kandinsky however abandoned these styles and began painting very differently; he used bright colours, line and textures and combined these with shapes that were not recognizable. Kandinsky wanted his artwork to convey feelings through the use of colour and forms. Kandinsky is considered to have created the first piece of abstract art. His painting, Composition VII is considered his best abstract painting.

Composition VII 1913 http://www.wassilykandinsky.net/work-36.php
Kandinsky was part of the Neue Kunstlervereinigung Munchen (Munich New Artists' Association) but left the group in 191l and participated in the Blaue Reiter's exhibition. From 1914 to 1921, Kandinsky lived in Moscow, marrying the daughter of a Russian General and where he was involved in teaching and developing art museums.

But he fell out of favour with the Socialist government, eventually leaving the Soviet Union and returning to Germany where he became involved in the Bauhaus movement. The Bauhaus was closed by the Nazi's in 1933 and Kandinsky left for France. In the 1937 purge of "degenerate art", fifty-seven of Kandinsky's painting were burned by the Nazis.

For further information on Vasily Kandinsky please check out Wassily Kandinsky Biography, Paintings, and Quotes and Kandinsky.

For more information on people who have synesthesia and this interesting genetic condition check out the PBS website.

Book Details:
The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock
New York: Alfred A. Knopf        2014

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Bomb: The Race to Build - And Steal- The World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin

Bomb is Steve Sheinkin's fascinating account of the three way race between America, Germany and the Soviet Union to build the first atomic bomb. Whoever won this race would likely win World War II and America was determined it would not be Germany.

When fission was discovered and it's possibilities realized, the development of an atomic weapon became a massive project that involved hundreds of brilliant scientists drawn from Europe, Britain and America. It also became a multi-pronged tactical exercise that involved hindering German atomic research as much as possible, keeping American research secret from both Germany and the Soviets, co-ordinating the production of material required to make the bomb, and developing a team to deliver and drop it.

Sheinkin opens the story of "the creation and theft of the deadliest weapon ever invented" with the arrest of Harry Gold, an American who the FBI finally caught up to in 1950.

The story then backtracks to the early life of Robert Oppenheimer, a strange but brilliant character whose peers often considered him "as being sort of nuts". Oppenheimer had a tendency to illness so his parents kept him inside, allowing Robert to develop his interest in languages and science. In high school he loved chemistry and physics. He graduated from Harvard University in 1925 and then went overseas to Britain and Germany where he completed advanced degrees. Oppie, as he was nicknamed, eventually returned to the United States and was hired by the University of California at Berkley where he developed a theoretical physics program. At this time theoretical physics was focused on attempting to figure out how the inner parts of atoms behaved. As he got a bit older, Oppenheimer become more aware of current events taking place in the world at large and was alarmed at Adolf Hitler's rise to power in 1933. Oppenheimer had Jewish relatives and friends in Germany and he was concerned about their safety.

In 1938, an astounding discovery was made by a German scientist, Otto Hahn. By the late 1930's scientists understood more about the nature of matter than ever before. They knew that atoms were the small particles that made up all things and they knew a little bit about the structure of atoms, that they had a nucleus made up of protons and neutrons with electrons whizzing around the nucleus in a sort of orbit. They also knew that some atoms were unstable or radioactive, giving off energy in the form of particles which broke away from the nucleus. Scientists like Hahn used radioactive atoms to make an amazing discovery. When Hahn placed uranium beside a radioactive element, he discovered that the uranium atom appeared to be split into two atoms - something considered impossible at this time.

He was so surprised by this result that at first he didn't believe it and Hahn contacted a friend, Lise Meitner, a Jewish physicist who had fled Germany. Meitner in turn showed her nephew who was also a physicist. Otto Frisch and Lise Meitner concluded that it was possible and that if it did occur, a great deal of energy would be released. This discovery was so incredible that Frisch raced to Copenhagen, Denmark where he told Neils Bohr. This process of splitting a uranium atom in two would be called fission and it was to have a profound effect on world history and the nature of war. When Robert Oppenheimer learned about fission , he knew that it had the potential to create the most powerful bomb the world had ever seen.

No one knew exactly what Germany was doing with this new found knowledge. During peace, normally scientists would share discoveries but with countries now falling into what appeared to be another global conflict, no one could be certain of anything. Two concerned physicists solicited the help of  the renowned Albert Einstein who wrote a letter to President Roosevelt telling him about the German discovery of fission and its potential ramifications. If Germany developed the first fission bomb, they would be in a position of world dominance, capable of inflicting deadly damage on any country they were at war with. When Roosevelt understood the message conveyed by Einstein he decided to act.

First atomic bomb named "Gadget" tested at Trinity
This is where Harry Gold returns to the story. Like many American's during the depression, Gold ended up losing his job. He got a chance at employment in a soap factory where he met Tom Black, a committed communist. When Gold went back to work for his former employer, the Pennsylvania Sugar Company, Black recruited Gold to steal the chemical processes for the Soviet Union. This was how Gold became involved in "the greatest crime of the century" as described by J. Edgar Hoover.

With the bombing of Pearl Harbour in the early morning hours of December 7, 1941, the United States entered the Second World War. Reasearch into nuclear fission would now be of paramount importance.

The Soviets too heard about Hahn's remarkable discovery. Georgi Flerov a Soviet physicist noted that academic journals were suddenly devoid of papers on uranium fission, meaning that work was going ahead to build a bomb. The Soviets recognized that despite being allies against Germany with the Americans, they too needed to build their own atomic bomb. With their country in a death fight against the advancing Nazi army, they did not have the capability to do their own research. This mean they were going to have to steal the information necessary to make one. And the KGB set about to do just that. In order to steal the information the Soviets needed a "reliable source inside the American bomb project."

Leslie Groves, an engineer who had overseen the project to build the Pentagon was placed in charge of the American project to build an atom bomb, known as Manhattan Project. He eventually chose Robert Oppenheimer, who felt that a laboratory which was focused exclusively on building an atom bomb, was needed. This would allow scientists from different research labs to be in one centralized location and able to share insights. This despite reservations from the FBI who felt Oppenheimer's past interest in Communism made him unacceptable. Groves won and Oppenheimer was placed in charge of Manhattan Project.

From this point on Bomb details three storylines; the setting up of the Manhattan Project to build the world's first atomic bomb under the direction of Robert Oppenheimer, the destruction of the German's heavy water plant at Vemork near Rjukan, Norway and the cultivation of spies in America to steal vital information to make a bomb and pass it to the Soviets.

Each of these stories on their own, make fascinating reading, building to the climax of the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945. Sheinkin provides much interesting information on the actual development of the atomic bomb gathered from many sources. The entire Manhattan Project from beginning to end involved a great deal of planning, from recruiting the best and brightest scientists in the fields of physics, chemistry and mathematics, securing enough uranium, working out a bomb design, testing the bomb to ensure it worked, to hand picking the pilots and the crews to fly the missions. All of the problems encountered, the many characters involved in the Manhattan Project and the mixed reactions after the dropping of the first bomb are well described.

The story of the Vemork heavy water plant is also one that many readers will learn about. Its destruction by Knut Haukelid and his team was a significant setback to German scientists in the development of their own atom bomb and came with a heavy price to the people of Norway. We should all be grateful for their sacrifice and for the outstanding effort of the team sent into Vemork. It is quite possible that Germany would have won the race to build an atomic bomb were it not for the destruction of their heavy water plant.

Equally amazing is the story of  Soviet espionage and betrayal by two scientists working on the Manhattan Project supported by a colourful cast of international agents. The information stolen and passed onto the Soviets saved them from wasting valuable time in developing a bomb design and in the end resulted in an arms race that did not cease until the late 1980's. One can only speculate on how different the history of Eastern Europe might be today had the Soviets not had atomic and nuclear weapons.

Sheinkin has written a remarkably well researched book and told the story of the development of the atomic bomb and the theft of classified information in a way that is both engaging and informative. The book has four parts; Part 1: The Three Way Race, Part 2: Chain Reaction, Part 3: How To Build An Atomic Bomb and Part 4: Final Assembly. There is a Prologue and an Epilogue, the latter detailing the consequences that the major players in the espionage faced as well as how the arms race played out in the mid-20th century. A reproduction of the letter Albert Einstein sent to President Roosevelt as well a some pictures of the explosion at Trinity are also included.

Bomb is high recommended for those who have an interest in science and World War II history. Not surprisingly, Bomb was the winner of the 2013 Robert F. Sibert Medal for excellence in informational books. It also won the YALSA Award for Excellence in Young Adult NonFiction for 2013.

Book Details:
Bomb: The Race To Build - And Steal- The World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin
New York: Roaring Book Press     2012
266 pp.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Inland by Kat Rosenfield

Inland is an atmospheric novel that leaves readers wondering whether the main character is insane or really is what she believes she is as suggested in the first chapter. The central character is sixteen year old Calypso (Callie) Morgan who lives with her professor father, Alan Twaddle and who struggles to cope with an unsettled life after a family tragedy.

The opening chapters provide the back story, first fifteen and then nine years previously. We  meet Callie's mother, Maera Morgan fifteen years earlier - a young woman who had carefully and in a calculating manner selected a lonely, passionless geoscience professor to marry and to give her a child. Maera made sure the man she chose was someone she would never love and Alan Twaddle was certainly someone who fit that criteria -an academic buried in his research. Then nine years ago, with her daughter Callie in a boat, Maera simply slipped into the water and disappeared, presumed drowned. Callie was questioned but no one believed her story nor understood why Callie didn't help her mother.

In an effort to forget Maera's death, Callie and her father moved inland, the first few moves within the state of California.  Callie's mom had a younger sister, Nessa, whom Callie is close to. Nessa tells Callie that her mother's family all live near the sea in many different countries throughout the world. They are drawn to the sea with many being sailors, swimmers, divers, fisherman and aquatic biologists. Nessa tells Callie that the ocean has a voice that seems to beckon them, an idea that her father finds ridiculous and chalks up to Nessa's use of marijuana.

After the second move, Alan decided to leave California, taking Callie away from the ocean and the home she loved so much to the Midwest. Nessa didn't travel with them, warning Alan "God knows how your daughter will suffer before you see how wrong it is." For nine years Callie and her father moved from place to place in the Midwest, from Grand Junction, Colorado to Elko, Nevada to Laramie, Wyoming where they've lived for the past six months.  A year after her mother's death, Callie developed problems with her lungs, having attacks that left her unable to breathe and often requiring hospitalization and numerous medications. These mysterious attacks puzzled doctors who were never quite able to pin down a diagnosis. Callie eventually stopped making friends; too many moves and too many hospitalizations.

While in Laramie, an old colleague of Alan's, Mike Foster, began calling him from the Gulf Coast. Her father has a reputation as an excellent geotechnical engineer and he's being courted for a huge wind-farm project to be developed in the Gulf. With the offer to pay for their move and Callie's treatments at a university hospital, Alan agreed to move to Florida.

The story reverts to the present as Callie and her father settle into a house on a river that leads to the Gulf and she is enrolled in a private school called Ballard. Callie is provided with a new physician named Sharp who starts her on new medication. Within a month of arriving Callie finds her breathing begins to ease, her attacks less frequent. She meets the young girl next door, Bee, who insists she's seen a dark-haired mermaid in the river near the dock.

When Callie goes to see Dr. Sharp she tells him that she has been having vivid dreams, which the doctor suggests might be the result of the beta-blockers she is taking. What she doesn't tell Dr. Sharp is that when she closes her eyes, she sees someone in the darkness of her mind. Callie believes this is her mother and she takes great comfort in these dreams.

Then one day Nessa surprises everyone arriving for an extended visit, not having seen Callie for nine years. At school Mr. Strong, Callie's biology teacher, assigns a cute boy, Ben Barrington to help Callie settle in. For the first time in years, Callie makes friends; Ben's friends who include sisters Mikah and Shanika and Jana who specializes in just being herself. There's also cute Eric Keller, Meredith Hartman's boyfriend.

At night Callie retreats to her dreams where she believes she meets her mother in the depths of the ocean. Then her dreams change with Callie hearing her mother beckoning her to come away with her, to come home. One night Callie sleepwalks to the dock entering the river, only to be saved from drowning by Nessa. Nessa and Callie keeps this episode a secret from Callie's father and they decide to lock her bedroom door at night as Callie can't be sure this hasn't happened before.

Because of her dreams and her belief that her mother lives on in the sea as a mermaid, Callie feels drawn to water, to the ocean and wants to learn to swim. When she does, Callie discovers she is a natural. In fact, she's so good that Eric Keller who is a member of the school swim team, suggests that she try out for the team. All Callie wants to do however, is answer the persistent call of the sea, to swim in the Gulf where she believes she's being called.

Callie's swimming begins to trim her body of the doughy physique she had acquired over the years and she becomes lean and taut, growing taller and broad shouldered. For the first time in her life, Callie feels strong and capable, in charge of her life and her destiny. In the water she feels confident.
"Everything that made me flat-footed and ungainly in my old life is different in the water...I will never be a teenage dream of sinuous, delicate femininity. Not on land. But swimming, even my large hands and feet seem streamlined. Flat and powerful, knifing and kicking as I relearn to move below sea level."

Ben begins coming to visit Callie at her home, meeting her father and taking her out. Nessa warns Callie though to be careful telling her "This boy will want to keep you."  But Callie begins to fall for Ben enjoying her time with him and they way they make plans to do things together. Just when Callie's life seems to be falling into place, her health recovered, a cute boyfriend and an almost family with Nessa and her father, things begin to unravel. The pull of the ocean overwhelms Callie, almost leading to a terrible tragedy and resulting in difficult decision by her distraught father to save his daughter from the fate she seems destined for.

Inland is psychological mystery in which Callie's condition can be an either or. Rosenfield presents her readers with two choices; is Callie part of a line of mermaids who still feel the call of the ocean or is her heritage really that of mental illness. Rosenfield weaves the mermaid theme in early, incorporating some of the mermaid mythology into the opening chapter. In mermaid mythology, mermaids were creatures who were half woman half fish, who sang to men on ships, luring them into the sea with their beautiful songs, only to drown them. Callie's mother seems to suggest that she has been granted time on land to carefully select a man to give her a child, but is always intent upon returning to the sea. As Callie grows older she learns that she comes from a family in which all the women seem irrevocably drawn to the sea and appear to need to live near it in order to remain healthy. Inexplicably, Nessa won't follow Callie and their father as he moves inland but when she learns of Callie's move to the Gulf Coast she leaves immediately. Callie's Aunt Lee however, moves as far away from ocean as possible, after the death of her husband and boy and is very sick when Callie contacts her, suggesting that her illness is the result of her distance from the ocean.

The mermaid theme continues when Callie moves to Florida and she lives next to a river. Ben takes her to an area where there are manatees, which Callie immediately feels an attraction to. These elusive creatures were once thought to be mermaids. The evil mermaid theme appears throughout most of Callie's nightmares. Her mother does not appear as the beautiful, kind mermaid of modern culture but more as a willful, dark one. Rosenfield's descriptions portray this well: "I can feel, rather than see, her pale, long hand as it brushes my hip or shoulder; the glint in her large black eyes..." and later on after the near drowning of her and Ben: "Her skin is silver-white and cold, hairless and slick. I feel long limbs sliding past me, a hand like silk on my back....There is something stretched between her fingers, a gossamer membrane too slippery to grasp. The oval nails are longer now, skinless, gray, thick, and hooked and glistening in their points....The high rise of her forehead breaks the surface, water beading on the ridges where her eyebrows used to be. Eyes like black marbles peer back at me, lightless and shining with no whites at all."

Even the mystery over Callie's maternal family suggests either mermaid or madness. Nessa tells Callie that her grandmother, glamorous, smart and gifted, "rejected what she was meant for" and disappeared. Aunt Lee also hints at Callie's mysterious family past remarking that no one has told Callie anything.

The theme of mental illness is also woven through the novel as Callie gradually loses her grip on reality and begins to recognize that her obsession with the sea seems to mirror that of her mother's before her death. Callie asks herself if the voice of sea once called out to her mother too and could she have believed that that is where she belonged?

Readers may think they know where Rosenfield is going with her storyline, but she does throw in enough twists to keep readers wondering.  Is Callie really seeing something in the river or are her vision the product of a sick mind? Are her dreams the result of the psychological trauma she experienced as a young girl and is unable to process properly or the product of a true longing to return to the sea?

Rosenfield's prose is beautiful and captures the setting of her story well. However, sometimes the extensive descriptions overwhelm the novel which perhaps could have benefited from better editing especially at the beginning when readers have to catch up on the missing nine years following Maera's death.

The ending of Inland is unexpected and cryptic, leaving readers to make their own conclusions. Inland is an interesting variation on the mermaid theme that seems to be seeing a resurgence of interest in young adult literature. Fans of Anna Banks, Of Posiedon series may not find this one quite to their liking, given the cryptic, unresolved nature of Inland. But it is well written and the mental illness twist adds to the mystery.

Book Details:
Inland by Kat Rosenfield
New York: Dutton Books      2014
382 pp.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan

Love and Other Foreign Words is a delightful book about a young woman trying to understand the nature of love just as she experiences her first love and comes to terms with her older sister's upcoming marriage.

But Josie can't figure out how someone knows they are in love. And she certainly can't understand how her older sister Kate could possibly be in love with Geoffrey Stephen Brill.How can she possibly learn the language of love?

Fifteen year old Josie Sheridan has an IQ of 154, making her a genius. Josie lives with her parents in Bexley, a tony suburb of Columbus, Ohio. Her mom is an instructor at The Ohio State University's College of Nursing. She has two older sisters, Magdeleine (Maggie) who is a pediatrician and married to Ross, a pediatric endocrinologist and Katriane (Kate) who is a drug sales representative for a pharmaceutical company.

Josie spends a great deal of her time at her neighbour, Stu Wagemaker's, house which is across the street from hers. According to Josie, sixteen year old Stu is a "love-'em-and-leave-'em type" having had many girlfriends over a short period of time. Stu however insists he is not.

The novel opens with Kate visiting her family for dinner and telling everyone about her boyfriend Geoff. Kate wants her family to meet Geoff whom she is very serious about and arranges for her and Geoff to come to dinner on the following Friday. Dinner on Friday proves to be a disaster to Josie who takes an immediate dislike to Geoff especially after she discovers that Kate is engaged to be married to this strange man. Geoff who is the director of the medical library at Mount Carmel West, doesn't help matters much with his highbrow, intellectual attitude. Intending to impress Kate's parents he introduces himself as Geoffrey Stephen Brill and spends the evening attempting to impress the Sheridan's with his knowledge of a vast array of topics. In a hilarious exchange, Josie proves to be a match for him in terms of intelligence and wit. Josie can't understand the language of Geoff any more than she can understand the language of Kate loving him. He's an insufferable dork and all Josie knows is that she has to make Kate see this.

Josie's father encourages her to give Geoff "more of a chance than this one evening", but Josie is determined to stop Kate's marriage. When she calls Kate to try to talk her out of the marriage, Kate reminds Josie that she is only fifteen and has no real experience with love, something Josie is keenly aware of. She has gone out with exactly three people in her life, including Stefan Kott who revealed to her that he asked her to the homecoming dance because she was tall. 

Josie and Stu, who both have I.Q.'s in the 150's, attend classes at Capital University, nicknamed Cap. They are just finishing their freshman year as part of their high school's Early College Program, meaning they will graduate from high school later but finish college earlier. Their mornings are spent at Cap and they return to Bexley High in the afternoons. Josie has a fascination with language and has declared her major at Cap as Romance languages. She is constantly exploring how people relate to one another in terms of language. The language of high school is Ohmig*d because this phrase is used so much for so many meanings. Now if Kate could only figure out the language of Geoff and figure out how the language of Kate has changed.

In order to gain some experience in love, Josie asks Stu's sister, Sophie, to find her a date for prom. That date turns out to be Stefan. Josie tells Stu that she's having a hard time relating to Stefan. Stu advises her that "Relationships are tricky. You need to speak the same language. Or learn each other's, but that doesn't always work."  They hand out a few times and see each other at school but Josie finds herself struggling to connect with Stefan and to learn his language. While they try to see each before prom, Josie's upcoming dinner with Kate and Stefan's plans prevent them from doing so.

Josie goes to visit Kate at her condo in German Village with plans to shop for a prom dress and spend the evening together. However, the night turns into a disaster starting with Kate telling Josie that she's not only going to have to get contacts for the wedding but also have her ears pierced. And the surprise she planned turns out to be Geoff cooking dinner - a dinner that ends up in his lap, along with a glass of wine.The resulting catastrophe leaves Kate not talking to Josie who insists to their mother that it was all an accident.

On prom night Kate does eventually show up before Josie and Stefan leave for the dance. The prom turns out to be a turning point for Josie and Stefan when he confesses to Josie that he could fall in love with her. But when he asks Josie if she feels the same way she has no idea what to say, because as it turns out she doesn't feel that way at all about him. Prom results in two break-ups, Sarah breaks off with Stu and Stefan breaks up with Josie.

Josie and Stu return to classes in the fall, as seniors in high school and sophomores at Cap. Stu has broken up with Amanda Meyers, seeming to prove Josie's assertion about the type of guy he is, while his sister Sophie has broken up with Adam Gibson and is "determined to fall in love with Josh Brandstetter". But when Josie arrives for her soc class at Cap she instantly falls for a new guy, Ethan Glaser who turns out to be the instructor for the course. Despite the age difference (Ethan is 10 years older) Josie is certain what she feels for Ethan is love as they seem to speak the same language. Over the time of the course, Josie discovers that Ethan seems to understand what it's like to be gifted. At the sidelines is Stu whom Josie has noticed has filled out over the summer and grown a beard.

As Kate's wedding approaches, Kate becomes increasingly critical of Josie's appearance which only serves to push Josie even more against her wedding to Geoff.  Even during Josie's sixteenth birthday dinner, Kate continues to talk about her wedding. To help her cope with the changes going on in her life, her dad gives Josie a journal to write down her feelings. Kate and Josie's relationship finally collapses into war when Kate's criticism of Josie in front her bridesmaids, her mother and the seamstress at a fitting push Josie to tears. She shows Kate that she will ruin her day if she doesn't stop leading to an escalating series of threats between the two. During this time Josie begins to work out her feelings for Ethan but also comes to a realization about Stu, who has silently been waiting while speaking her language all along.

Readers will find the first half of Love and Other Foreign Words funny before the novel gets down to more seriousness in the second half as Josie attempts to determine what love is and come to terms with her sister's marriage. Josie and her friends struggle to understand the nature of love while coming to the realization of some truths about love. For example, after Emily Newall breaks up with Nick Adriani and then days later, reconciles with him, she tells Josie that love and hate are very similar and that you can feel both at the same time. Josie puzzles over Stu dating girls for a short period of time only to inexplicably dump them, until later in the novel she learns why it is that he does this. When Josie finds herself attracted to Ethan, at first she believes this is love or could lead to love but later on, in a truly heartrending conversation with her sister, Josie begins to doubt that what she feels is love. That is confirmed when Kate cruelly sets up Ethan with her best friend Madison Orr,  partly in an act of revenge and partly to show Josie that he is too old for her and that what she feels is a crush.

As Josie ponders what she feels for Ethan and what Kate and Geoff have, she comes to realize that people know they are in love when they speak the same language. Josie realizes that Kate and Geoff speak the same language and it does not include her. This is hard for her to accept because she feels left out. She also comes to the conclusion that people who are good friends and who are in love have a special language. Josie realizes that these are people we can "connect with on that deep level of language that doesn't just allow us to be ourselves with each other but allows us to be understood, even when we're not saying anything." 
Silence -- awkward or comfortable -- is a language too. Awkward silence screams, 'We have nothing in common.' Comfortable silence proves just how much we do." 

McCahan has created a lovely cast of characters in this novel; real, engaging and each very different. Josie is a clever girl who is feels deeply insecure about losing her sister to a man she barely knows, and who is beginning to ask some questions about love. She wants to break up Kate and Geoff because she feels that he's wrong for her, but more importantly that he will change her relationship with Kate and change the Sheridan family dynamics. Josie is afraid that Kate is replacing her with Geoff, but later on Kate assures her that she is not but that Geoff is much like Josie, which is why she loves him so much.


The character I disliked the most in this novel was Kate. Wedding planning turned her in the mother of all bridezillas, manipulative and mean. What was particularly nasty was Kate's criticism of her younger sister's body and looks. Kate determined that in order for her to have the perfect wedding, Josie needed to get contacts, get her ears pierced and possibly get her hair cut. Kate's lack of consideration towards her sister whom she supposedly is very close to is appalling and deeply hurts Josie.
"Done," Kate says, "I mean, her glasses are cute for every day."
"Oh, sure, but not a wedding."
"Well, not my wedding. They'll look ridiculous," Kate says. "I'm working on getting her ears pierced now. And the padded bra" -- she points at my reflected bust -- "was the best I could do for her figure."
"Are you aware that I am three feet away from you and not deaf?" I ask them both as I twist around, furious, and interrupt my seamstress's work.
"Josie, we're just talking," Kate says.
"About all of my ridiculous flaws. I know. I heard."
"No," Kate corrects me a bit more harshly than I think I deserved. "About my wedding and how my bridesmaids, including my sister, are going to look so that no one looks ridiculous."

When Josie tries to tell her sister that she is not critical of her other bridesmaids, Kate adds further insult by saying she doesn't have to be. Sadly Kate and Josie's mother does very little to rein Kate in, allowing the situation between the two sisters to grow increasingly hostile and setting the stage for an all out battle later on. Brides get to determine the dress and shoes their bridesmaids will wear and how their hair will be done, and the bouquets they will carry. They do not have the right to insist that bridesmaids get contacts, breast implants, nose rings or whatever else to make their wedding "perfect". Happily Kate's words come back to haunt her as it is Josie who defines "ridiculous" at Kate's wedding. Overall, this was an interesting if brief exploration of wedding culture and the insanity it brings into families.

The one thing I thought was odd about this story was that Kate who lived only fifteen minutes from her parents home, never brought Geoff to meet them until she was engaged. I could understand this if Kate lived halfway across the country but she that wasn't the situation.  And even then, most couples would travel home bringing their partner to meet their family. This seemed strange, especially given that Kate's family was a close one. I also feel that Kate could have prevented much of the alienation Josie felt if she had brought Geoff to meet her family sooner. Josie would have gradually come to know Geoff, eventually realizing that he was a pretty decent fellow. As it is, she does eventually come to this conclusion but only after much heart break. Josie realizes that Geoff understands her more than she originally thought - that's why he was able to counter some of what Josie did to Kate.

The ending was wonderfully done because after what Kate put Josie through for her wedding, the reader can't help but hope that Josie manages to outwit both Kate and Geoff and make Kate's remark about how no one was going to look ridiculous come back to bite her! Touche!

Well written, humorous and at times deeply touching, Love and Other Foreign Words is a great read about sisterhood, love and boys!

Book Details:
Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan
New York: Dial Books         2014
pp. 331

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Blind. A Novel by Rachel DeWoskin

Blind is novel that explores one teen's journey as she tries to cope with a life-changing injury that leaves her permanently blind.

Emma Sasha Silver has lost her eyesight as a result of a terrible fireworks accident  on July 4 of the previous year. She missed half of grade nine and spent the remainder at Briarly School for the Blind were she learned to  read braille and navigate the world as a blind person. This summer she continued at Briarly continuing to develop her skills using a white cane and the old Perkins Brailler.

Now she's back at her old school, entering grade ten at Lake Main with her best friend Logan. Emma will have a paraprofessional who will read the blackboard to her. Although life at home for Emma and her six siblings, Sarah, Leah, Naomi, Jenna, Benji and Baby Lily are seems to be heading towards some kind of normal, Emma begins to fully realize what being blind will now mean.

Emma's narrative about her present day life with her six siblings at home, attending her regular school, Lake Main, and her visits with her therapist Dr. Sassoman is punctuated with flashbacks that recounts her journey over the past year struggling to come to terms with her loss of sight.

In the present, with best friend Logan at her side and her K9 buddy Spark, Emma begins the new school year feeling she is a freak and wondering how her fellow students will relate to her. The start of school is further marred by the discovery of the body of classmate and friend, Claire Montgomery in Lake Brainch. Emma is met with a mixed reaction that includes those who are too traumatized about Claire to care much about Emma, others who are angry at her and others who are curious.
Emma is greeted by Coltrane Wilson, a super smart, cute guy in her class who is nice to everyone.

Assembly at school reveals nothing about what happened to Claire and only that grief counselors are available. As Emma leaves her first day of school she wonders about her dark future. "I just want to stop thinking about forever in the dark and my endless, claustrophobic tunnel of a future. Because I'll never drive or get a job, or get married or lose my virginity. Maybe I'll never even kiss anyone."


At this point, Emma narrates what happened to her a little over a year ago, during the summer. Emma's life took a sharp turn when she was injured in a fireworks accident. She awoke in hospital to discover her head heavily bandaged and to learn that her eyesight had been permanently lost. Dr. Sassoman began to slowly help Emma come to terms with what had happened, although Emma spent weeks crying and screaming over what had happened to her. Logan came to visit Emma six times a week despite her parents going through a break up. After she left the hospital, Emma refused all her mother's attempts to get her to get her to go out and she told Logan she would never return to Lake Main. But the arrival of Spark, her K9 buddy helps Emma begin to come out of her funk.

In October, Emma's mobility coach, Mr. Otis, arrives and begins the long process of helping Emma develop strategies that allow her to function in everyday life, like organizing her clothing, use her white cane, walking on the sidewalk and using her phone. Emma must relearn everything because of her blindess. "The work was a choking, incessant reminders that I was back at zero flatter than any baby starts at...It was all a matter of survival, even though it was literally stuff like learning to walk down the sidewalk or across the street."

After Mr. Otis leaves, Emma continues to struggle to see a future. She is certain that many things most people take for granted in their lives will now never be possible for her, including getting a job, making enough money to support herself, attending school, walking, running or even falling in love.


So that she can practice the skills that Mr. Otis taught her and eventually re-integrated back into a regular school, Emma is sent to Briarly. At Briarly Emma meets a boy, Sebastian Metropole, who is a year older than her. Seb tries to help Emma, accepting the rocking that she does to comfort herself but telling her she needs to stop it, encouraging her to try skiing despite being blind. Seb tells her that Briarly will help rid her of  the PBK (poor blind kid) vibe. Emma attended Briarly until the following June but it was Seb that gave her her first glimmer of hope - something Emma only begins to realize five months later when she is back at Lake Main.

Now during the current school year, Emma is beginning to settle into Lake Main again, although some things she concedes will never be the same. She won't return to playing the piano, and she might even consider skipping classes. When Seb from Briarly attempts to contact her, Emma does not return his calls being both afraid and ashamed. She can't face Seb at this time.

An autopsy reveals that Claire had numerous drugs in her system before she died. Emma is concerned that no one is really talking about what happened to Claire. Emma want to understand why Claire was alone taking drugs and then somehow drowned in the lake. Logan and Emma decide to ask Zach Haze, whom Emma is crushing on, to meet to discuss setting up some kind of get-together where people can talk about what happened to Claire. At this meeting they decide to ask people to meet at an abandoned house known as the Mayburg place near the I-92.

As she heads to her friend Logan's house for a sleep over so she can attend the Mayburg meeting there is evidence that Emma's world is beginning at times to right itself.
"Maybe because the night was unfolding so deliciously in front of us, I felt as good as I have in forever, kind of extra human. Like a cartoon hero with sidekicks and special powers or something, my bones and my ears and mind and dog and stick doing the work my eyes used to think they were doing."

Emma and her friends invite a number of people to the meeting including, Blythe Keene, Claire's best friend, Amanda Boughman, Joshua Winterberg, Deidre Sharp, Elizabeth Tallentine and Christian Aramond whose father is the French teacher. The group of friends meets at the abandoned house and Emma tells them that they are there to figure out how to keep each other safe and to see if they can figure out what happened to Claire since very little information about her death has been released to the public or her friends. However, little does Emma know that the Mayburg meetings will result in new revelations, test friendships and lead Emma further on her journey to recovery and hope.

Blind is a novel about the process of recovery and rediscovering one's identity. Emma was an attractive, accomplished girl, who played piano, was popular and had a best friend. After her accident, she is blind and has been disfigured with a scar over her left eye which is permanently closed. She feels scared, unlovable, and cannot imagine a future being forever blind. It is as she explores the death of Claire, that Emma begins to realize some truths about her situation and to face them. One of her friends points out that if Claire did kill herself, even in her darkest moments she was rejecting all the possible futures where she might be happy.

The concert is a defining moment for Emma when she comes to realize that despite being blind, she is happy she is alive. As she is experiencing the colours and texture of the music from the quartet she considers "how Claire will never taste chocolate again or see a single color let alone hear a symphony." She wonders "How do you decide you'd rather be dead, and never hear music or eat chocolate again?"  The music instills in Emma a desire "to be even more alive than I am, than anyone is. It made me want to feel everything, to be in love. It made me want to start my piano lessons again immediately, to ride a bike again, to call Sebastian, to swim."  These are all things Emma had been refusing to do because of her blindness.

When Emma reconnects with Seb and goes on Briarly's school ski trip she realizes that she now thinks differently about life than she did a year ago. "...I hadn't realized yet that it was possible to be both blind and capable of thinking about anything other than the fact that you're blind." Unfortunately, when she tries to restart her friendship with Seb, whom she acknowledges earlier in the novel gave her the first glimmer of hope that things wouldn't always be dark and dismal, Emma finds it is too late. Seb is no longer interested.

Emma's journey continues when she is taken to visit a young girl named Annabelle, who has lost her eyesight to disease and who will also likely go deaf. Emma recognizes herself in Annabelle and like Seb a year earlier, wants to help Annabelle cope with being blind. Emma tells her that she spent most of the past year trying to forget that her time at Briarly because she thought it would make her life easier. Instead it had the opposite effect, making her a terrible friend to someone who had given her hope, and making it longer for her to accept her blindness.

Eventually Emma comes to realize that in order to live with her blindness she has to remember everything and she has to live her life. She comes to believe that she almost was like Claire who once told her friend Amanda who was struggling to cope with her parents divorce that she "shouldn't think my life was over, because I would be a totally different person in two years. So if I killed myself then, I'd be killing that other person, too, and who knows, she might be super happy."  Emma comes to realize that if Claire did kill herself, for whatever reason she forgot what she told Amanda. And she forgot about the reality of death and the possibility of a better future.  "And maybe in that moment, after the drugs, during the time in the water, it's possible to think that you don't care whether you die. If it is, that's only because you don't care whether you die. If it is, that's only because you don't know what it means to be dead, inside forever in the dark. You can't know about dead until you're dead, not even if you're me."

Emma understands this because she's been where Claire was, wanting to die, seeing only dark in her future as a blind person and not understanding the possibilities of the future or about the nature of death. This is what Seb was trying to show her at Briarly when he let her touch his face - that the future contains hope. Emma, however, was not ready for that message yet.

There's an interesting symbol woven throughout the novel which is expressed through the use of eye glasses. In English class Emma's teacher asks about Atticus's broken eye glasses and Emma tells her that this represents Atticus having a new point of view, of seeing things from a different perspective. In Blind, Emma adamantly refuses to remove her sunglasses because of the "livid" scar over her left eye. To Emma that scar defines her and represents what blindness is - ugly. But by the end of the novel, Emma decides to remove her glasses, remarking that "Sunglasses make great headbands.",  demonstrating a new perspective on blindness and who she is.

Blind is a long, detailed novel that explores the themes of identity, death, blindness, disability and life. Readers will perhaps find the novel slow in the first one hundred pages but as Emma uncovers the changes in herself and others, the novel becomes more interesting. It simply takes the author a bit of time to develop these themes.

DeWoskin appears to have researched her subject well, as Emma's experiences, first coping with the loss of her vision,  at the school for the blind and as a visually impaired teen are well portrayed. Characterization is a great strength of this novel; there are a number of well drawn principal characters including Emma, Logan, Sebastian, and Emma's sisters Leah, Sarah and Naomi.

Overall Blind is an excellent, well written novel.


Book Details:
Blind by Rachel DeWoskin
New York: Viking      2014
394 pp.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Night Letter by Meghan Nuttall Sayres

From each heart is a window to other hearts.
They are not separated like two bodies,
Just as, even though two lamps are not joined,
Their light is united by a single ray.
Night Letter is the sequel to Sayres' Anahita's Riddle which tells the story of a young Afshar girl who is determined to marry a man she loves rather than the thrice married khan of her tribe.

In Night Letter Anahita is travelling with her mother and grandmother to Marv for her wedding to Arash, the Qajar prince and governor of Marv. Their caravan is only days away from Marv.  On a windy night while Maman Bozorg, Anahita is startled to see three men wearing black turbans storm into their tent. They seize the two women, throw them over the backs of horses and race off across the plains. Hours later they stop at an oasis and when Anahita tries to protest she is hit in the face and knocked out. She awakes later on in a cave to learn that they have left her grandmother at the oasis and that she is now in the company of only two men, one she calls Hawk because of his eyes and an kinder man who speaks French whom she names Muhammad.

Anahita decides she will try to leave clues for those who will surely come in search of her. In the cave she leaves bloodied rags and manages to scratch some clues on the wall of the cave. As they continue their journey along the dusty plain to the north, Hawk reveals that Anahita is destined for a sigheh with a prominent man in Bukhara. A sigheh is a temporary marriage that a woman makes voluntarily, setting the duration and bride price.  Anahita has no intention of agreeing to such a thing even as Hawk threatens her.

Meanwhile Arash learns from young Pirouz, the street boy Arash befriended, that Anahita has been kidnapped. Pirouz learned of Anahita's predicament in the market and he tells Arash that Anahita is to be sold as slaves. Arash's scouts inform him that the Afshars believe that Anahita will be taken to Bukhara. However, Ismail and Arash do not believe she will be sold into slavery but rather that her captors want a ransom. Arash sends his scouts to search the routes to Bukhara, Samarkand and Herat as well as the routes to Isqhabad, Tabriz and Constantinople.

Arash decides to go to the oasis where Anahita was last seen with her grandmother and follow her tracks.  His friend Ismail tells him that should he have to buy back Anahita from the slave market in Bukhara, he will need a great deal of money. Arash instructs Ismail to travel to Bukhara, a protectorate of Russia and should he find Anahita there, to buy her back.

Continuing on her journey, Anahita, Muhammad and Hawk cross the Rhud Amu Darya and up the mountain. Anahita, Muhammad and Hawk reach the summit of the mountain but their descent triggers an avalanche that buries Muhammad and half buries Anahita to her waist, slamming her into a tree and cracking her ribs. Hawk and his horse, Rakhsh escape unscathed, but Anahita learns that Muhammad who's real name is Mahan is no where to be found. Hawk frees Anahita from the snow and does not stop to search for Mahan, instead forcing her to journey to Bukhara

Everyone begins searching now for Anahita. Dariyoush, who was seriously wounded in the thigh during Anahita's kidnapping, decides to set out in pursuit of Anahita.  He traces the kidnappers to the oasis and then follows a trail to Samarkand. In Marv, where Anahita's caravan has arrived her father, Kadkhuda Farhad, organizes Arash's soldiers while Reza and Pirouz take the train to Isqhabad.Reza and Pirouz do not find Anahita in the slave markets in Isqhabad and Reza sends Pirouz back to Marv while he journey's on to Bukhara. Farhad decides to leave for Bukhara telling Maman Bozog, Mojdeh and Shirin that they will stay in Marv. However, Maman Bozog has her own plans, knowing the men will not be able to search within the women's circles of the city for Anahita.

Arash and Dariyoush unexpectedly meet up on the plains near the mountains where Arash directs Dariyoush to travel to Bukhara, while he continues onward to Samarkand. During this time Anahita and Hawk stop at a teahouse in a village on the side of the mountain. After resting and obtaining boots for Anahita, they continue their journey with Hawk revealing his name to be Taman Bas and his intention to sell Anahita to the Emir Abdullah of Bukhara. Can Arash and Anahita's family save her from such a terrible fate?

Night Letter is a thrilling sequel that vividly portrays life in early 20th century Iran while tackling the issue of slavery and trafficking. Sayres' prose manages to convey both a sense of danger and romance as Anahita faces the real threat of a forced temporary marriage, while her devoted family and her beloved fiance struggle to find and free her. Sayres uses the first person narration of Anahita alternating with the third person narratives which tell what is happening to other characters in the story as they hunt for her. Anahita's voice is realistic, alternating between courage and boldness, and overwhelming fear. At times she even begins to doubt the presence of Allah in all of her trials.

The title of the novel refers to anonymous letters that were written outlining grievances against the Persian Qajar dynasty and read in teahouses during the early 1900's. One such grievance was the selling of the women and girls of the town of Quchan when the men were unable to pay their taxes to the local governor after a drought. Sayres incorporates this tragic real life event into her novel and supplies more information about it in an author's note at the back of the book. The situation was discussed in night letters like the one Anahita wrote and resulted in debates in the Majlis, the Iranian parliament and ultimately led to the investigation and trial of those responsible.

As with the first novel, Night Letter is filled with many of the customs and traditions of Persia, especially regarding the relations between men and women and marriage. Sayres manages to convey the strong sense of family in society as both Arash and Anahita's families work together to save her. There are also several verses of the beautiful poetry of  the Persian poets, Jalaluddin Rumi, Hafiz, Rabi'a of Basra, Omar Khayyam and Mirabi of India.

Night Letter is populated with the same fascinating and beautifully crafted characters; the strong, courageous Anahita, noble Arash, the determined Dariyoush who still deeply loves Anahita, brave Pirouz, and the wise Maman Bozog. The villains, the heartless Taman Bas, Mahan who was blackmailed and soon comes to regret what he has done and the spoiled, cruel emir are equally well done, lending depth to the story.

The cover art for this novel was done by Tehran artist, Rashin Kheiriyeh and portrays a bride kidnapping.  In a note from Kheiriyeh he writes that the painting was done in the Persian miniature style which features the use of vibrant colours and oriental patterns using pencil and acrylic. There is an extensive Author's Note at the back of the novel, along with a discussion guide and an extensive glossary while the front of the novel contains a map of the region showing Anahita's journey.

Night Letter is highly recommend to those who enjoy historical fiction, especially that of the Middle East. Well written, exciting and fascinating to read!

Book Details:
Night Letter by Meghan Nuttall Sayres
Orange County: California.    Nortia Press    2012
281 pp.




Monday, September 15, 2014

With Every Breath by Elizabeth Camden

With Every Breath is an engaging Christian historical romance centered around the conflicted relationship between two people as they struggle to treat the scourge of tuberculosis.

The novel's prologue sets the stage for the story. It is 1879 and at a private school in Washington, the top two students, Trevor McDonough and Kate Norton are competing for the coveted college scholarship. It's not likely Trevor, who is from a wealthy Scottish family will need the money, but for Kate, the scholarship represents her only chance to attend college. Trevor, who arrived at the private academy four years earlier has made few friends with his icy demeanor and brooding ways. However, Trevor does win the academic competition meaning Kate will likely have to spend her days working at her parents boarding house.

Twelve years later finds Kate recently widowed from husband Nathan Livingston and working as a statistician for the census bureau in Washington, DC. Inexplicably she has received a request by the world famous Dr. T. Kendall to apply for a prestigious position at Washington Memorial Hospital. However, when Kate attends the interview she is stunned to discover that the prestigious Dr. T. Kendall is none other than her old nemesis, Trevor McDonough. Shocked Kate struggles to understand why Trevor changed his name and why he has requested her to work with him. Trevor tells Kate that he is undertaking research into a cure for tuberculosis, "measuring the effect of a new serum to see if it can strengthen the blood of patients suffering from tuberculosis." His patients are all terminal, having no hope of recovery. He recognizes that Kate has the mathematical ability to work as a statistician for the research.

But Kate has always feared illness especially after the death of her two younger brothers, Carl and Jamie, from diphtheria. Compounding this is Trevor's cold demeanor and the fact that Kate has never come to terms with him winning a scholarship he did not need many years ago. However, Kate knows her family needs the money and at twenty-nine, as a widow she recognizes that she has few good employment prospects. So Kate accepts the position and begins working for Trevor at Washington Memorial.

When Kate arrives her first Monday morning she learns that she will share an office with Trevor. Each Monday both Kate and Trevor have to be tested for tuberculosis due to their repeated exposure to patients.Trevor refers to each patient as a number and requires Kate to record data about them. Trevor gives each patient a serum consisting of beef bone marrow and minerals in cod-liver-oil in the hopes of strengthening their blood. He tells Kate that once tuberculosis enters the blood a person rarely survives.  Also working in the lab is Henry Harris who does the testing of sputum samples, Nurse Ackerman who is in charge of the ward on the fourth floor of the hospital.

As Kate settles into her job it soon becomes apparent that someone is determined to destroy Trevor's research. Nurse Ackerman shows them the most recent article appearing in the Washington Times about Trevor's clinic, claiming the remedies are quackery. Supplies disappear and it appears that someone has been searching his office.  As more anonymous letters appear in the newspapers, Trevor begins to suspect that whoever is writing them knows a great deal about his personal life and that the person wants to see him ruined.

Trevor explains to Kate that someone is trying to get the hospital to evict him and close down his research. Kate is understandably worried about her job but Trevor tells her that he is paying for the research out of his own money and that he has the backing of the surgeon-general. The hostile stories in the press continue into the summer months but Kate grows to love her job. She tries to inject some warmth into the lives of the patients in the ward by reading to them and insisting on referring to them by name.

Trevor himself is a mystery to Kate. She doesn't understand why he changed his last name and why he was so determined to win the scholarship from  her twelve years ago. As she traces his personal history she uncovers two years where there are no records of any achievements.  She wants to know why he went to the Himalayas and where he was from 1887 to 1888. As she gets to know him better she begins to suspect that beneath that cold facade is a complicated man.

"Trevor was different. Austere and reserved, she wondered what it would be like to peek beneath that shell. Trevor wasn't emotionless. Oh no. She'd caught glimpses of a mighty passion simmering beneath the surface, but he always held it so tightly locked down. Restrained. What would it be like to tear away his stern outer layer and see that smoldering emotion unleashed?"

Can Kate uncover the mystery behind the enigmatic Trevor McDonough and help save the clinic and his reputation from ruin while coming to terms with the realization that she is falling in love with the man who stole her chance for a college education?

With Every Breath is a slow paced novel in which tuberculosis research provides the opportunity for Trevor McDonough and Kate Livingston to meet twelve years later. Kate is still recovering from the death of her husband Nathan and has never forgiven Trevor for capturing a scholarship that he didn't need. And as secrets are uncovered we learn that Trevor was captivated by Kate but due to circumstances could never truly pursue her. Both gradually begin to lose the prejudices they have formed towards each other as they come to know one another better.  Kate sees that Trevors cold, cheerless exterior is a form of protection against becoming to close to either patients or those around him. Instead she finds a kind hearted man who cares genuinely about his patients and is passionate about his work. And Trevor finds that the joy Kate carries redeeming

Once Trevor and Kate work through their past and they discover that have a mutual affection for each other, another conflict arises and that is over the possibility of sharing a life together. Kate cannot accept Trevor continuing to work with tubercular patients, placing himself at risk. She doesn't want to loose another husband like she did with Nathan. However, Trevor feels he is called to work with tuberculosis patients and he's not prepared to stop his research for a cure. Eventually Kate comes to realize that nothing in life is guaranteed and that she needs to trust in God's providence.

"'I don't understand what God has planned for either of us, but I know it's pointless to keep worrying about it. I think your life is going to unfold exactly as God intends. I think you  are at the beginning of a grand, monumental quest, and God sees the bigger picture, even if I can't. I'm willing to trust what I cannot see, even if it's frightening and uncertain...."

With Every Breath is a well written romance that doesn't ever stray into a preachy tone. In fact the Christian references are subtle but relevant. A good example is when one of the tuberculosis patients reminds Kate about the necessity of grieving; "Dr. Kendall. Oh, he's right that we're all in God's hands, whether here on earth or on our journey to the other side, but there's no shame in grieving. It's normal. Grief freshens our perspective on life; it helps us appreciate the blessings we've been showered with..."

Camden has created a sort of heroic character in Trevor McDonough. Trevor unknowingly contracted tuberculosis at the age of thirteen. When he arrived in America he had to keep his illness a secret or risk being sent away. Mrs. Kendall, the woman who cooked for the family he stayed with also suffered from tuberculosis and she helped him eat properly. By the time Trevor left for college he was clear of the disease. But curing others of the deadly disease became his goal. In an effort to understand the disease better he reinfects himself with tuberculosis bacteria and managed to at least show that he does not have immunity to the disease. Trevor's courage is demonstrated in working with those most susceptible to contracting tuberculosis, the marginalized poor and prostitutes. He doesn't care what people write about him visiting the poor, only that he can minister to them and try to help them. Yet Camden has crafted a realistic character because Trevor has his weaknesses too - he can be arrogant and selfish.

Camden was inspired to write With Every Breath after reading the memoir of Edward Livingston Trudeau, a pioneer in the development of sanitarium care for tuberculosis patients. Dr. Trudeau contracted tuberculosis from his brother and managed to live for forty years with the disease.

With Every Breath is a light, enjoyable read for fans who prefer gentle romances with an interesting storyline.

Book Details:
With Every Breath by Elizabeth Camden
Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers    2014
356 pp.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

DVD: Belle

                                          "What is right can never be impossible!"

Belle tells the story of illegitimate half black daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay and her struggle to be accepted into British aristocratic society.

Dido Elizabeth Belle was the mixed race daughter of twenty-four year old John Lindsay, an officer in the British Navy. Lindsay met Belle's mother Maria who was a slave on a ship he had captured while in the West Indies. Lindsay brought Maria back to England where she had a daughter. In 1764 both Maria and John Lindsay returned to Pensacola, Florida and it was at this time that Belle was brought to Lord Mansfield's home. Lindsay took Belle to his great-uncle's summer home in London, Kenwood House to be raised by his aristocratic family. Lindsay's uncle, William Murray was the first Earl of Mansfield and in the latter part of the 1700's was the Lord Chief Justice of England. Mansfield came to be responsible for several seminal decisions against slavery in the late 1700's.

The movie centers around the insurance claim made by the owners of a slave ship, the Zong. The Zong was enroute from West Africa in 1781, carrying a large cargo of slaves destined for Jamaica. The ship began to run out of water and food when the ship sailed into an area of quiet water in the mid-Atlantic, known as "The Doldrums".  With a ship crammed full of 470 slaves, the slaves and crew began to sicken and die. Captain Collingwood decided to throw some of the chained slaves whom he felt were diseased or dying, overboard. In total approximately one hundred forty-two slaves were drowned. When the ship arrived in Jamaica, its owner, James Gregson filed a claim for the loss of his "property". The insurer, disputed the claim, noting that there was plenty of water on board when the ship arrived in Jamaica but a Jamaican court awarded the claim. Thomas Gilbert, the insurance underwriter appealed and the case went before Chief Justice, Lord Mansfield.

When the movie opens, it is 1764 and Britain is both a colonial power AND a major player in the lucrative slave trade. John Lindsay arrives at his great-uncle's lavish home and presents his mixed race daughter, Dido Belle Lindsay, to Lord Mansfield (played by Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (played by Emily Watson), who are already raising Elizabeth Murray, (known as Bette in the movie) the daughter of their nephew, Lord Stormont. They are not happy to receive the little girl into their home because she is dark-skinned, but they accept and tell her they will call her Dido. Dido and Bette grow up as close as sisters, with Dido receiving a good education and all the trappings of an aristocratic life.
"Papa, how is that I am too high in rank to dine with the servants and too low to dine with my family?"
When Belle comes of age, she learns that she will be awarded a yearly income while her cousin, Elizabeth will be penniless, unable to inherit and thus making her prospects for a good marriage remote. Lord Mansfield tells Belle that when they have guests she will not dine with the family nor will she "come out" during the next season in London. She is shocked at this treatment by her beloved "papa". Nevertheless, during family outings, Dido manages to capture the attention of Lord Ashford who is attracted by her beautiful but who tells her he will put aside her poor lineage on the one side to marry her. Although Belle accepts his marriage proposal she feels that it is has not been made in the spirit of true love.


Meanwhile, Dido becomes increasingly aware of her great uncle's involvement in the Zong insurance appeal and begins to develop a relationship with John Davinier (played by Sam Reid) who is working with the abolitionists. Dido and John discover they are of like minds when it comes to all people, regardless of colour, being equal and not chattel to be disposed of. Dido eventually breaks her engagement to Lord Ashford and tells her family of her desire to marry the man she loves, John Davinier. The film concludes with Lord Murray, Chief Justice of England bringing down his decision in the Zong insurance case.

Because so little is known of Dido's life, especially during the period portrayed in the movie, Belle is largely a work of historical fiction that incorporates the Zong trial and her relationship with John Davinier, a steward and not a young lawyer as portrayed in the film. The movie also referenced a painting done in 1779 by an unknown artist that shows Dido Elizabeth Belle with her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray. This painting hung in Kenwood House in north London until 1922 where it was transferred to Scone Palace in Scotland, the ancestral home of Lord Mansfield. The painting is unique in that it features for the first time a black person as an equal of a white person. Belle is an exquisitely crafted period film with beautiful costuming, well written dialogue and an engaging story. It is well cast with Gugu Mbatha-Raw starring as Dido, Sarah Gadon as Lady Elizabeth Murray and Matthew Goode as Captain Sir John Lindsay.

It is well worth the effort to see this movie which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2013 and has now been released on DVD.




You can find out more about the cast and the movie at www.belle-themovie.com

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Secrets of Tree Taylor by Dandi Daley Mackall

"This whole summer has been nothing but secrets, and I'm afraid my whole life will be like this. It's like life is a spiderweb of secrets, holding everything together by these tiny threads that hide the truth. And I keep stumbling into webs I can't get out of."

Set in the summer of 1963 during the Vietnam War and while the Cold war between the Soviet Union and the West was ongoing, The Secrets of Tree Taylor explores life in small town America and a girl struggling to  come to terms with the secrets she learns about people in her town.

Thirteen year old Tree Taylor lives in Hamilton, Missouri with her parents and her older sister Eileen. Her best friends are seventeen year old Jack Adams and her classmate, Sarah. Tree, (her name is variation on Teresa concocted by Jack) loves the Beatles and especially loves to dance. She has a crush on her classmate Ray Miller. Tree has two goals for the summer of '63. She desperately wants the only freshman spot on the Hamilton High newspaper, Blue and Gold. But she needs to write something in order to nab that spot, since Wanda Hopkins expects to get it as her Aunt Edna aka Mrs. Woolsey runs the paper. And the shooting of Mr. Kinney might just be that opportunity.  The second goal Tree has set for herself is to have her first kiss.

One morning, Tree who is sitting out on her front porch hears the gunshot and watches as her father, the town doctor, races down the street to the Kinney home. Tree ignores her father's warning to stay put and walks to the edge of their property. There she sees Mrs. Kinney emerge from the house holding a rifle and that's when Tree runs to the cottonwood on the Kinney property. There she sees her father talk to Mrs. Kinney, go in and check on Mr. Kinney and then come out again, taking the rifle from her. Tree notices the Mrs. Kinney's "cheeks and forehead were the color of lemon-lime Squirt, with patches of yellow and splotches of blue and purple. Her nose bent to the side, hinting at the letter L."  This description suggests that Mrs. Kinney is being physically abused by her husband.

When Sheriff Robinson shows up, Doc Taylor tells him that Alfred Kinney's been shot and that he has had a neighbour call the ambulance to take Kinney to the hospital for a few nights. After the Sheriff talks to Alfred Kinney he asks Tree's father what they should do. Doc Taylor merely states that "Accidents happen." despite Alfred Kinney's "peculiar notions about the shooting."  Tree decides that "Whatever did happen inside the Kinney's house, it was going to be my ticket to the Blue and Gold staff. This would be my first investigative report, and I'd prove to Mrs. Woolsey that she should me. Not Wanda."

What happened at the Kinney's home becomes Tree's secret although she doesn't at first realize that other people don't know what happened. They only know that Alfred Kinney shot himself by accident because that is what has they have been told. However Mrs. Kinney's numerous accidents over the years and arguments overheard by the neighbours lead some to suspect that this is not what really happened. Tree decides that she's "going to tell it like it is." However when she approaches her father to ask him about what happened that morning he tells her to let it go. He tells her to write about someone like Gary Lynch who has leukemia and cannot leave his home or the soldiers dying in Vietnam.

As Tree struggles to write her article she realizes she needs more information than she has about Mrs. Kinney, so she begins visiting her. She discovers that Lois Kinney who loved to read, wanted to be a librarian. But it's obvious from the lack of books in her home that Alfred Kinney would not allow her to have books. So Mrs. Kinney hid a set of encyclopedias and as a result knows facts about many strange and random topics.  With each visit by Tree Mrs. Kinney shares these facts but Tree doesn't have the courage to ask her about what happened that morning.

One day Jack sends out a fake story via his mother Donna who is the town gossip. He tells his mother who calls him many times per day, that he shot and killed a man trying to rob the IGA. This news reaches Tree who races there to only to find out that nothing happened. Tree is furious realizing the truth of what happened that he could have been killed and that was something she did not want to ever face. This event gets Tree to thinking about the Mrs. Kinney situation and her story.
Jakes fake story had even made me confused about journalism. What if I heard a story about somebody, and then I wrote about it, thinking it was the truth. Only it wasn`t. People would believe what I wrote. They would believe me.
Gradually Tree begins to feel that she doesn't want to report anything that might hurt Lois Kinney.

Meanwhile, although Tree finds Ray attractive and is jealous that he is spending time with Wanda, she has many great moments with her best friend Jack. Jack and Tree's parents get together on Sundays to make music while they play games or dance. Their love of music and especially dance are what draw Jack and Tree together. However, Jack, who takes Tree on driving lessons and essentially looks out for her, will be leaving in the fall to attend Northwest Missouri State.

Tree recognizes the same traits that Mrs. Kinney has in her classmate, Penny Atkinson. Penny never says more than two words and she behaves strangely around her stepbrother, Chuck.At her job as a basket girl at the Hamilton swimming pool, Tree begins to seek out Penny and try to talk with her.

Soon Tree begins to realize that almost everyone has secrets; her best friend Sarah's family's yard sale, Eileen's hair dye, Wanda, Ray, and even, eventually her best friend Jack. But when Tree uncovers Penny's secret she has to decide whether it's a secret to be kept or to tell someone? And how does one decide which secrets to keep and which to tell?

Those who have read To Kill A Mockingbird will immediately sense the similarity of Mackall's novel to this well know American classic. Mackall's narrator, thirteen year old Tree is reminiscent of precocious five year old Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird. Tree's father, Doc Taylor is similar to Scout's lawyer father, Atticus. Like Atticus, Doc Taylor is concerned about truth, justice and mercy. He doesn't like gossip and prefers to take people as they are. Like Scout, Tree is a bit of a tomboy, forgoing skirts and makeup and she has a close relationship with her father who attempts to instill in her his regard for the truth tempered with mercy. However, unlike To Kill A Mockingbird, The Secrets of Tree Taylor doesn't tackle heavy themes and therefore is not a dark novel.

There are plenty of themes in the novel but of course the most evident one involves secrets and the responsibility one has in knowing a person's secret. In the end Tree learns that sometimes divulging a secret will do more harm than keeping it and other times, as with Penny's secret keeping it will do the most harm. Doc Taylor tells her that discerning which to tell and which to keep is a difficult thing.

"But how do you know? How can I tell which secrets to leave alone and which secrets not to? I didn't know for sure he was hurting her."
Dad looked at me like he was seeing me for the first time.
"That's the problem, Tree. We don't always know. Only God sees everything. There aren't any secrets with him. The rest of us have to do the best we can."
The character development is one of the key strengths of this novel. Each character is quite different and the reader feels like they are experiencing a real town populated by real people. I was invested in the characters enough that I wanted to know how life worked out for Jack, Tree, Sarah and Mrs. Kinney.

While this novel was not historical fiction for me, it will be so for young teens who read it. Mackall has done a brilliant job of portraying the culture of early 1960's America, with plenty of references to the early rock and roll music of the era, hula hoops, sock hops, drive-in theaters, the controversy and division the Vietnam War created in America, and the ever present threat of the Cold War. The reason the novel succeeds is that the author drew from her own personal experiences growing up in a small town. Her father was a small town doctor similar to Doc Taylor in the novel, who took fruit and vegetables as payment for his services. When writers write about what they intimately know, they write brilliantly.

At the end of the novel, Tree tells what happens during the rest of 1963 and into early 1964. Readers will find the ending bittersweet, although the author tries to remain hopeful. But it's definitely a twist no one expects.

Overall, The Secrets of Tree Taylor is an outstanding novel - one of the best I've read this year. Dandi Daley Mackall has written many novels and one of her books, My Boyfriend's Dogs has been made in a movie for television, to be aired this fall. Her novel, The Silence of Murder won the Edgar Award.

Book Details:
The Secrets of Tree Taylor by Dandi Daley Mackall
New York: Alfred A. Knopf          2014
282 pp.



Monday, September 8, 2014

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

The Kiss of Deception is the first novel in the Remnant Chronicles by the author of the Jenna Fox Chronicles. This novel which is fantasy adventure follows the fate of a young woman destined to be the saviour of her people.

Seventeen year old Princess Arabella Celestine Idris Jezelia, First Daughter of the House of Morrighan, is getting married to the Prince of the House of Dalbreck. Against her will. The novel opens on the morning of her wedding day with the artisans placing the elaborate wedding kavah (a type of tattoo) on her back. Her wedding kavah contains the lion crest of Dalbreck along with elaborate vines.

Lia and Pauline weave a trail of false leads as they travel  from Civica south to Pauline's Aunt Berdi's home in the fishing village of Terravin. The colourful village with it's blue, red and yellow and lime homes and shops seems like a jewel to Lia with its setting near the aquamarine waters of the bay. Lia and Pauline tell Berdi what has happened, how Lia fled her forced marriage to the prince of Dalbreck. Berdi offers them a place to stay and in return they will work for her at her inn and tavern. When Lia goes to the river to bathe she hears a melody in the breeze  The urgent tone of the melody seems to suggest someone seeking to find her.  "I will find you... In the farthest corner...."

As Lia and Pauline settle in to Terravin they are unaware that two men are hunting for Princess Arabella; the jilted prince of Dalbreck and an assassin hired by the Komizar of the Kingdom of Venda. The Prince is tracking her because he is furious at having been stood up. Sven, who has trained him since the age of eight, tells him that he is angry because he didn't think of fleeing first. A trained soldier in the Dalbreck army, he is an expert tracker and the only heir to the Dalbreck throne. It takes the prince three weeks to track Lia and Pauline to Terravin. But he's not alone. The assassin from Venda who has been ordered to slit her throat so as to prevent the alliance between Morrighan and Dalbreck, that would result from her marriage has also arrived in Terravin.

Lia meets two newcomers to Terravin at Berdi's tavern where she now works as a barmaid;the dark-haired blue-eyed calculating Rafe who Gwenyth pegs as a fisherman  and the blond-haired brown eyed  brooding Kaden who she believes is a trader. Both Rafe and Kaden end up staying in the barn loft while they separately wait to accomplish their missions. But both men don't count on being captivated by the strong-willed Lia. Lia too is at first captivated by the handsome Kaden and the dark mysterious Rafe.

When Lia goes to Devil's Canyon to pick berries she unexpectedly encounters Rafe who attempts to make peace with Lia. Neither is honest with the other. Rafe tells Lia that he is a farmer from a small town in the southernmost part of Morrighan, a town with no name while Lia tells him that she was a thief. Of course Rafe knows who Lia is but Lia does not realize Rafe's identity. When Rafe sees the remaining part of Lia's kavah, the lion's claw and vine on her shoulder, he asks her about it. But she tells him it is not a part of tradition but the evidence of a terrible mistake.

Both Rafe and Kaden witness Lia's secret meeting with her brother Walther, although they both believe she is meeting with a lover. Walther is a soldier in their father's army which runs patrols in the Cam Lanteux, a safety zone that exists as a buffer between the kingdoms. The barbarians have been kept back for hundreds of years and not allowed to settle in this area. She learns that Father has posted a reward for her arrest and return. But it appears that her father has other more pressing worries on his mind - marauders have destroyed the bridges in the north. Walther tells Lia that they suspect this is the work of the Vendans  who might be planning to attack Morrighan. The failed alliance with Dalbreck has not helped. We also learn that when Lia left, she took something of great value, several books written in the ancient languages from the Scholar a man is the expert on the Morrighan Book of Holy Text and who can translate some of these ancient languages. Lia has absconded with Ve Feray Daclara au Gaudrel and a Vendan text that she cannot read. Walther also tells Lia that his young wife, Greta is with child.

Gradually Lia begins to fall in love with Rafe who also develops similar affections for her. He begins to realize that this seventeen year old princess is a complicated woman. However,  Lia and her friends are suspicious of the two men who have stayed on for so long at the inn, without seeming to have any other work. Although Lia initially favoured Kaden, she begins to find herself more strongly attracted to Rafe.  Meanwhile Kaden begins to struggle with his mission to assassinate the princess. He has developed feelings for her and he realizes that he will also to have to kill her friend Pauline. He decides to wait until after the festival to complete his mission. Rafe comes to understand why Lia fled from the arranged marriage to him when he overhears a conversation between Lia and Berdi.

It is during the Festival of Deliverance to commemorate the deliverance of the Remanent that Lia's love for Rafe begins to truly blossom. This makes Kaden angry and when his fellow Vendans, Griz, Eben, Finch and Malich show up at the festival questioning why he hasn't fulfilled his duties, Kaden tells them to give him another week to do so. 

When Walther returns to Terravin badly injured and distraught over the murder of his beloved Greta by a Vendan patrol, Lia decides that she must return home to Civica to help repair the damage she has done by running away. She doesn't know if the alliance between Morrighan and Dalbreck can be saved but she feels that she must live up to her duty as a First Daughter to try to save Walther and her other brothers. When Rafe learns of her decision to leave he asks her to meet him the next day on her way from Terravin, intending to return with her to Morrighan to ensure that she is not harmed by her father, the Chancellor or the Scholar.  However, that meeting never happens because Lia is kidnapped by Kaden and his band of Vendans, who are determined to take Lia to the Komizar.

When Rafe learns of Lia's capture through Pauline, he sets off in pursuit, using his considerable tracking abilities. Meanwhile as they journey across Cam Lanteux, Kaden tells Lia that he is merely trying to keep her alive because he does not want to kill her. The only way to ensure her survival is to lie to the Komizar and tell him that Lia has the "gift", some unknown ability to foretell the future. When they stop at a vagabond camp of the tribe of Gaudrel, an old woman named Dihara encourages Lia to learn to use her gift, telling her that she has been taught to ignore it when she was growing up and warning her that gifts that are not used shrivel and die. Dihara gives Lia a book that is a primer in Gaudrian used to teach several languages including that of Morrighan and Vendan. This now means that Lia will be able to decipher the Vendan book she stole from the Morrighan Scholar.

Meanwhile,  Rafe, who with his men, is unable to catch up to Kaden, decides that they will race towards Venda in the hopes of intercepting Kaden.

Lia makes plans to escape from Kaden but these are thwarted when he suddenly announces they are resuming their journey to Venda. As Lia begins to practice trying to discern her gift, she begins to feel it developing. This leads to one day to become suddenly aware of a great danger approaching. This danger turns out to be a huge heard of bison which cause her to become separated from Kaden and to spend the night in a dark and dangerous forest. It is in this forest that Lia uncovers her true identity and destiny. How that destiny will play out remains to be seen as Lia witnesses the murder of her brother Walther when his patrol has a surprise encounter with the Vendan army. Distraught but not yet despairing, Lia enters Venda preparing to meet the deadly Komizar. Her date with the Komizar however, will be aided by the presence of the very man she now knows she loves, the man she refused only a few months ago.

The Kiss of Deception is well written with numerous plot twists that keep the reader engaged. Pearson tells her story utilizing the three narratives of  Lia, Rafe and Kaden with a short narrative of Pauline's near the novel's end. In an attempt to engage her readers, Pearson does not reveal directly to her readers which of the two men is the assassin and which is the jilted prince. This leads to some confusion and suspense in the first half of the novel. The first chapters are narrated by Prince and Assassin but when they appear in Terravin these narrations change to Kaden and Rafe respectively. This seems to be the pattern throughout the novel; something such as "the festival"  is introduced but not fully explained until many pages later.

While the novel opens with the fascinating hook of Lia having her wedding kavah done, a sort of nonpermanent tattoo, the middle section is slow as Pearson develops the romantic tension between Lia and the two men hunting her,  and as she builds her characters. It is this love triangle that is the basis for most of the conflict in the novel. As Lia comes to know Rafe and Kaden through the summer however, she gradually comes to chose Rafe, although she still believes Kaden to be a kind man. This belief in him continues after she is kidnapped by Kaden and seems unrealistic. He is taking her across the continent to a hostile kingdom whose ruler will likely do what Kaden did not - kill her. And equally unrealistic is that Lia is portrayed as still finding Kaden attractive despite knowing that he has killed many people in his work as an assassin.

All three main characters change during the course of the novel.  Lia becomes less self-centered and more concerned about how her actions might affect her world in a broader sense. At first her only thought is to flee, to reject the traditions and duties of her position as First Daughter in Morrighan. She haughtily rejects her mother's idea that she too is a soldier in her father's army. But by the end of the novel Lia has come to realize that this is a truth she must accept and that traditions and duty are important. 

Despite being jilted by her, Rafe, whose true identity is finally revealed to Lia at the end of the novel, finds Lia very different from the princess he imagined her to be. Although headstrong, she is caring but deeply hurt about being treated as a mere bargaining chip by her father. Rafe finds himself willing to forgive Lia for what happened on their wedding day and to see her safely back to Morrighan. Rafe feels he is unworthy to now marry Lia because he has deceived and manipulated her and that she not forgive him. 

Kaden whose allegiance is to Venda and his Komizar experiences the greatest conflict in the novel. He owes the Komizar his life and station but the price has been high. He is an accomplished assassin who expected to have murdered Lia quickly and efficiently. Instead, he finds that Lia is not as other royals he has met.

Woven throughout the novel are bits about the past of the world Lia, Rafe and Kaden inhabit. The texts of Morrighan talk about the people before them, known as the Ancients who were demigods controlling the heavens but who had been destroyed by the gods. The remains of their buildings can be found almost everywhere including Terravin. I love that Pearson placed a map in the novel, showing the position of the kingdoms. This is especially helpful during Lia and Kaden's journey to Venda. It helps the reader place the action in the story.

At close to 500 pages, The Kiss of Deception is a long read that might discourage some. However this is a captivating fantasy adventure with a hopeful romantic twist at the end. Readers will be anxious to learn what happens to Lia, Rafe and Kaden, to meet the cruel Komizar and to learn more about the history of what appears to be a post-apocalyptic world. The second novel, The Heart of Betrayal will be published in 2015.


Book Details:
The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson
New York: Henry Holt and Company     2014
486 pp.