Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Empire - John Connolly & Jennifer Ridyard

First line: "The predators circled, each taking a turn to snarl at her, some more vicious than others, but every one determined to take their piece of flesh."

**NOTE: if you plan to read this series in order and have not yet read Conquest, you may want to save this review for later so as not to spoil your experience with the first book of the trilogy.

The second book in John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard's Chronicles of the Invaders young adult series picks up after Syl and her best friend, Ani, have been sent to the Marque and the Nairene Sisterhood. Paul and his brother, Steven, were shipped off to the Illyri Brigades to fight.

Light years apart, Syl and Paul are both learning about the alien organism that Archmage Syrene of the Sisterhood infected Syl's father with. And both teens are determined to do whatever may be in their powers to fight back against the evil Illyri forces.

The audiobook of Empire is remarkably narrated by Nicola Barber. The cast of this trilogy and their various locations in space have anything but common names. Barber breezes through the pronunciations allowing them to naturally blend into the narrative while bringing out the strong personalities of characters. This is especially important in the Novice girls on the Marque. Their personalities range from naive to petty to downright cruel and Barber is attuned to the subtle differences in each. Much like a clique of high school girls, the Novices use the group mentality to wield power, and listeners will easily envision the distinct body language of callous adolescent girls.

The gifted Novices also have "special" talents. Their training on the Marque helps them hone these skills so that they can ultimately become part of the Nairene army and continue the evil reign of terror. This seasoned evil is present in the older members of Nairene, and Barber is just as adept with Grandmage Oriel's chilling malevolence as she is with Ani's innocent reverence.

Off the Marque, Barber is tasked with the slight dialect differences of the Brigade soldiers, in addition to their unique personalities. As Connolly and Ridyard develop an unusual bond between the rag-tag group of conscripted soldiers, listeners connect with them and ride along in their space odyssey.

Barber is keen to changes in the plot's pacing and intensity, adjusting for boosts through wormholes, covert investigations of the Marque and all the creepy, crawly, deadly creatures that rear their heads throughout the book. Empire is a bit more dark and graphic than Conquest.

The series is engrossing and will captivate the young adult science fiction fans, possibly those looking for alternatives to Star Wars or V. For the readers who may struggle more than others, the audiobook version is a great option to engage them in an exciting fantasy world where they can discover the magic of story. Stellar readers can also take away a good deal from this recording as Barber tickles the imagination and ignites the creativity of her audience.

Empire is available as an unabridged audiobook download (ISBN: 9781442376540) from Simon & Schuster Audio. Empire is also available in hardcover (ISBN: 9781476757155) from Atria/Emily Bestler Books.

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Quote of the Week

'Books are nothing until they're opened. Stories aren't stories unless they're told. Characters might be good or bad, but until you have known them they are neither and that's worse.'
   —David Whitehouse, Mobile Library

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Pleasantville - Attica Locke

First line: "They partied in Pleasantville that night, from Laurentide to Demaree Lane."

Attica Locke returns to her lawyer protagonist, Jay Porter, from Black Water Rising in her third novel, Pleasantville. Set fifteen years after the close of Black Water Rising this new thriller takes Jay Porter into dangerous political territory when a young campaign volunteer vanishes.

Perviously, two other young woman were kidnapped--about a year apart--only to later be found dead. Their murderer kept them alive for several days before dumping their bodies in the same nearby field. There are some differences to the cases, but there are enough similarities that everyone is in high alert, hoping to find the teen before her assailant can leave her in that same field.

When Neal, the nephew and campaign manager of one of the mayoral candidates, is arrested for the disappearance, Neal's grandfather Sam--a prominent citizen originally from Pleasantville--calls on Jay to represent him. Despite his lack of experience in criminal law Jay finds himself with little other choice and takes up the defense. It isn't long before Jay is wading in a case that reaches wider and deeper than the alleged kidnapping of a teen girl.

Pleasantville is a complex, multi-layered thriller with universal themes of power and class. It also pokes at political issues that are just as relevant today as in the novel's 1990s setting. On another level, Locke puts the family unit under a microscope to examine the myriad intricacies that develop over time and through struggles.

Locke's characters are richly developed and readers should have no trouble connecting with them: their motivations, emotions and conflicts. The supporting cast is as engaging as the lead roles. Locke is especially strong in her depiction of a single father trying to make his way with two young children: connecting with them, keeping them safe and raising them to be good people.

The plot overall has a somber tone, but Locke also throws in the occasional line that flickers of playfulness in her writing, "Lucifer himself probably showed up to Jesus's house at least once or twice, claiming to have the twenty dollars he owed our lord and savior."

Readers don't need to be familiar with Black Water Rising to thoroughly enjoy Pleasantville. A gripping story that offers up a lot of food for thought as well as a captivating plot that keeps the book's momentum swift, Pleasantville doesn't disappoint.

Pleasantville will be available in hardcover on April 21st from Harper (9780062259400) and as an unabridged audio (9780062374042), narrated by J.D. Jackson, from Harper Audio.

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My review today is part of the TLC book tour for Pleasantville, which started yesterday and continues throughout the month. Check the schedule to see what other bloggers are saying about Attica Locke's newest book.

Disclosure: I do some contractual work for one of the owners of TLC Blog Tours. My work with them does not obligate me to a specific kind of review. The reviews are still my own opinions and reflect only my thoughts on the novels. If you care to read more, you can find more information on my Disclosure page.

Quote of the Week

Jay has yet to meet a young lawyer south of Kansas who doesn't put on his best Atticus Finch every time he stands in front of a jury, who doesn't speak in an overly folksy manner, as if he'd dropped years of sophisticated law schooling and legal prolixity like bread crumbs on his way to the courthouse, leaving a trail to find his way back once the audience is gone.
   —Attica Locke, Pleasantville

Monday, April 13, 2015

Injustices - Ian Millhiser

My review of Injustices by Ian Millhiser first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers. I am reposting it today with their permission.

First line: "On a porch in Colfax, Louisiana, eight wounded men lay shielded from the rain."

Armed with data and passion, Ian Millhiser dissects the annals of the Supreme Court of the United States to illustrate how the unelected arm of the federal government has historically favored the interests of conservative politics and big business over the welfare of individuals. From early workers and civil rights cases to modern health care and campaign finance disputes, Millhiser's first book scrutinizes decisions that have shaped the American landscape.

The U.S. Supreme Court is responsible for ensuring the constitutional rights of all Americans and the justices with performing their duties through a non-partisan perspective. But evidence doesn't support this. Millhiser cites cases such as Lochner v. New York, which struck down workers' rights in favor of employers' rights to create unrestricted contracts, and Buck v. Bell allowing a young woman to be sterilized under the auspices she was an imbecile and should not be allowed to perpetuate her bloodline. Through precedent, definition, anecdotal and other supporting evidence, Millhiser shows how such decisions are unsubstantiated, driven by personal bias not constitutional mandate.

To contrast this, Millhiser demonstrates how less common decisions in favor of individuals, like upholding the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, improve the nation as a whole and confirm the senselessness of flagrant scare tactics.

Injustices is an eye-opening look at the highest court in the United States. Easily accessible to readers with little legal background, this is a powerful study of the branch of American government most often left unchecked.

Injustices is available in hardcover (ISBN: 978-1568584560) from Nation Books. It is also available as an unabridged audiobook (ISBN: 978-1494579524), narrated by Joe Barrett, from Tantor Audio.

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