To The Bright End of the World by Eowyn Ivey

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To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey is a bleak tale of love and exploration in the Alaskan wilderness. This is Ivey’s second book, the first the highly acclaimed and deservedly so, The Snow Child. In To The Bright Edge of the World, Ivey returns to the familiar setting of Alaska, before civilization as we call it has the chance to spoil its natural beauty and its supernatural spirits.

“…But this is all just an illusion, a dream,’ he went on. ‘You have been spared truth. Your Colonel and I, we know. Once seen, it cannot be unseen…”

Young Colonel Allen Forrester is given the commission of his dreams. He is to map and navigate the Wolverine River in the depths of Alaska. A land and passage not explored before by white men. It is 1885 and the rumor of gold in the wilderness of Alaska along the Wolverine river has the US Army desperate to unlock its secrets. But the native tribes, recently abused and misused by the Russians who had claimed the land before the United States, are untrusting and dangerous. Tales of cannibalism and brutality shadow the culture of these tribes.

But the orders to leave are even more difficult for Colonel Forrester as he must leave behind his young bride Sophie, who he learns is expecting their first child. For Sophie, this is to be a long year without her husband as she must stay in the military barracks awaiting her first child and the safe return of her husband. Neither of which is guaranteed.

“…Tillman protested the plan. I pointed out that it will be cooler come evening, but with the clear skies, it will remain light enough to see. This artic sun skirts below the northern horizon for only a few hours each night, so a kind of twilight remains even after sunset.
Tillman was unconvinced.
Don’t you understand Colonel? Those wolverines, they live off the flesh of the dead. We’re getting close to that other world the Indians talk about. We shouldn’t be wandering up there at night. If there are ghosts nearby, they’ll be haunting the hills.
I have no use for the occult. I said as much. To which Tillman said that while I might not have much use for spirits, they might have some unpleasant use for me…”

Colonel Forrester embarks on a journey fraught with adventure and danger. At home Sophie faces her own demons. Some in her mind and some, a strange tie between the spirits that follow the Colonel and those that chase her. In the dark and cold Alaskan wilderness can either be sure what is real and what is imagined. But both, will pay a dear price in their desire to unlock the secrets at the bright end of the world.

Eowyn Ivey is a gifted writer. Her prose and her cadence will take what might have been a weekday history lesson into a riveting tale of love, of loss, of ghosts and darkness and the trembling dangers of the unknown. And of courage. The sometimes blind and dutiful courage that made our nation at one time. The kind of courage that is lacking today.

To The Bright Edge of the World is a terrific novel of love and sacrifice and of those things we cannot map. Those things we cannot categorize, those things that defy our labels. It is a novel about men and women who either step, or are taken out of their comfort zones and yet, persevere. Colonel Forrester, a man of not only duty but of long family history and obligation takes on a mission that is almost certain to end in his death. But he pushes on, a leader to his men and a protector to those who come under his charge. Sophie must deal with the uncertainty and the dangers of childbirth in the Alaskan wilderness in the late 1800s.

For those expecting another fable like the Snow Child they will be surprised. I will not say disappointed, because this tale and the writing is far too good to be considered disappointing by any standards. But is not the Snow Child. To The Bright End of the World is something far different. It is Jack London and The Call of the Wild and I say this knowing sadly that there are far too many of you who have no idea who I just brought into the conversation. This is London, this is Kipling…this is just a damn good book.

Don’t miss it!!

The First Order by Jeff Abbott

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The First Order, book five in the Sam Capra series, by Jeff Abbott continues the odyssey of Sam and his search for his lost brother. A search that is at the root of his career with the CIA and then his alignment with a shadow espionage agency that may or may not be on the right side of the law.

It was the worse day of Sam Capra’s life as he watch an online video, showing the execution of his brother Danny by terrorists. The tragic act left Sam’s life shattered and that of his parents as well. But Sam has now dedicated his life to finding his brother’s body and the terrorists responsible for this act. To do so he has joined the CIA and trained as a espionage agent and assassin. When he left the CIA, he joined with a shadow agency to further his obsession.

But now, he has uncovered evidence that the dark truth he believes may all be a lie. Danny is not dead and worse, has been trained as an international assassin. Now Sam realizes that perhaps his brother has been near him all along. That Danny has not only been alive, but able to make contact at any time, but has chosen not to. Worse, Danny may have taken a job that could plunge the world into chaos by assassinating the Russain President. Now Sam must not only find his brother, but stop him.

Jeff Abbott writes thrillers. Pulse pounding, action packed books that you often feel like you stepped into the middle of the foray from the very first page. The First Order is not quite on that level and suffers from the sentimentality of the brothers and their estranged relationship. Sam as a character is slipping in this one and some of the supporting cast steps up, but not quite enough. It lacks the sense that you are a part of this world and this is really happening. The suspension of belief is so needed in a book like this that has roots in reality.

This is Timothy Dalton James Bond. You know the character and the story but it just doesn’t deliver.

The Girl From The Sea by Shalini Boland

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The Girl From The Sea by Shalini Boland is one of those really small books that will get missed by too many readers because they’ll never hear about it. That is too bad. This is a book that needs strong marketing behind it to draw attention to what may be one of the more original and freshest voice in modern mystery. What starts off as a tale of loss memory, tense atmosphere and the threat of impending danger; instead turns into something far more sinister and twisted.

“…As I approach the hospital bathroom mirror, I’m almost too scared to look. Will I recognize myself? After the police officers left yesterday, I slept. Consequently, I woke this morning, feeling a little stronger, a little more determined. And I’m off the drip finally, so at least I feel less like an invalid. My memory is still missing, but I will get it back. I’ll do everything it takes, starting with facing myself in the mirror. Hoping against hope that I’ll recognize the person staring back at me.
I have deliberately unfocused my eyes. The mirror sits above the sink, directly in front of me, but I must gather up my courage to look properly. I take a deep breath and stand up straight. I let my eyes relax and do their job of seeing.
Before me stands a woman-maybe early to mid-twenties. Sallow skin, brown eyes and a dark tangle of hair. She could definitely do with some mascara and lipstick. I put my hands to my face. To my pale lips, my dark eyebrows, to my nose which tips up at the end. I almost look like I could be Spanish or Italian.
Is that me…”

Mia James is found, washed up on a beach, with no memory of how she got there or who she is. As her past begins to unfold she finds that she has a fiance and a family and a wonderful life. But that is all on the surface and as she digs deeper than what friends and family seem willing to tell her; Mia finds that her life was far from idyllic and her friends and family are not who they seem to be. She finds that she herself may not be who they want her to believe she is.

“…I reached the end of the High Street and walk toward the Priory in a drunken, depressed, rain-sodden daze. The cobbles are slick with rain and I have to tread carefully in my slippery sandals. I push open the kissing fate, its hinges squeak and groan as I slide through. The Priory stands proudly unaffected by the downpour, like it has done for the past millennium. Solid and enduring.
The graveyard is deserted apart from a lone woman coming towards me, her blonde hair soaked through. She looks angry. Maybe she just had an argument with someone. I stop dead. I know her. It’s the woman from my dream. The one from my balcony. She’s coming closer, her face twisted in fury. But she looks so much more than furious-she looks mad. Dangerous. Murderous…”

Mia begins to realize that events that ended with her drowning in the sea seem to be on course to happen again.

What separates this novel from the dirge of female lead mysteries flooding the market is that the author dares to take risks with her story. To say much more is to give away the twists that make this story so good. I am so reluctant to do that because that is pretty much like telling you what’s in the present on Christmas morning before you have a chance to open it.

The Girl From The Sea is a surprisingly well crafted novel of memory and truth and the darker side of both.

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save The World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer

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There are books that should be read, regardless of subject, if only to enlighten ourselves about what is happening in the world around us. To remind us that we are in fact very isolated from the violence and turmoil that much of the world survives through on a daily basis. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer is one such book.

In the early 1980s, a young collector, Abdel Kader Haidara, travelled across the Sahara Desert and the Nigel river searching for and salvaging thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts to preserve in the newly created government library. The manuscripts themselves were often family owned, passed down from generation to generation and hidden from the governing powers. In these long lost manuscripts were the history, the beliefs and the soul of a people.

After decades of his hard work, Abdel Kader Haidara became revered as a historian of the legendary city of Timbuktu and the library of historical documents world reknown.

But in 2012, Al Qaeda militants seized control of northwest Africa and most of Mali, including the city of Timbuktu. Sharia law was imposed. The hands of thieves chopped off, women, young and old beaten for not dressing correctly. Unmarried couples stoned to death and foreigners kidnapped and held for ransom. And any writings not agreeing with Sharia law, mandated to be destroyed. As Al Qaeda tightened its control of the city of Timbuktu, Abdel Kader Haidara knew he had to do something before the library was lost to the world. The quiet Historian and Librarian would become one of the most brazen and courageous smugglers of this century.

Haidara would smuggle over 350,000 manuscripts of of Timbuktu to the safety of southern Mali.

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu is part text book and part Indiana Jones. There is simply too much history, too much knowledge at stake to think of this tale as simply an adventure. The history of the people of Timbuktu and how they came to individually hide their writings away instead of having them kept for safe keeping by their rulers is a story of its own. Ancient and priceless artifacts handed down through the generations, buried and hidden away, that even their modern day owners had no true idea what the manuscripts contained. Only that their ancestors held on to them and that they were charged with the same obligation.

It also details the rise of Al Qaeda and how they came to control this part of the world. How a militant band of extremists came to hold so much power and so much terror.

But most importantly, it tells the tale of a small band of men and women who would not have their history and their culture stolen from them and destroyed from the world for all time. If you think that could not happen. When was the last time you read a book by the Aztecs? Or the Incas? Or most any native American culture.

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu, a really good read.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo is book one in the series of what seems to be a very exciting and thrilling ride in YA reading. This is a book of adventure, a throwback to the books of my youth. It isn’t about girl power or all adults are dumb and evil or how all the youth are misunderstood. No Six of Crows is something much simpler and straight to the point. And that is what makes it so much damn fun.

Ketterdam is a port of call where anything and everything can be found for the right price. But for the rich families of the Merchant Guild it offers an opportunity for something even more. A drug that enhances the magical abilities of the Grisha, a race of humans who are able to heal, rend hearts, fabricators, controllers of the tides; but under the influence of the jurda parem, they are able to stop armies. But the cost is great, within days the dependency on the drug overwhelms the Grisha and soon they simply die without it. Yet that matters little to the Merchants, in Ketterdam the Grisha are mostly indentured servants, slaves in everything but name. With the jurda and the Grishas in their employ, they could rule the kingdom. But there lies the problem. The creator of the drug is in Fjerda, a military state who hates the Grisha and thinks of them as unnatural, Witches and Demons, locked away in impregnable Ice Court. To free the drug and its creator they need something different than an army. They need a thief.

Kaz Brekker is a criminal prodigy and he has just been offered wealth beyond his wildest dreams. But to claim it he has to pull off the impossible. He must break into a military prison that has never been broken into and retrieve a hostage that could bring about the end of the world. Brekker must assemble a crew crazy and desperate enough to take on this mission and he knows exactly who he wants.

A convict with a thirst for revenge.
A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.
A runaway with a privileged past.
A spy know as the Wraith.
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Together, these six may do what whole armies could not. But from the beginning, before they ever leave Ketterdam, Kaz knows they have a traitor among them.

This is high adventure. This is James Bond and Pirates of the Caribbean. They aren’t out to save the world, no these six are out to do what cannot be done and be paid well for it.

A terrific read that will have you eager to read the next!

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

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You Will Know Me is the newest offering from novelist Megan Abbott of whom I am quickly becoming a big fan. Abbott hops between genres so effortlessly and often within the same book that you are never really sure what kind of book you are getting at first reading. Except that it will be good, it will keep you up at night, it will make your heart pound and it will leave you both excited and disturbed. With You Will Know Me, Megan Abbott shows she is at the top of her game.

“…Mrs. Knox,’ the voice was brittle and low and she didn’t recognize it. She wasn’t even sure if it was male or female. ‘Why won’t your daughter talk to me?’
‘Who is this?’
‘You can tell her for me that I know everything.’
‘Hailey,’ Katie said, just realizing it. ‘Hailey, what are you-‘
‘You can tell her I’m watching her. I know all about her. She can’t hide from me.’
‘Hey calm down,’ Katie said, trying to keep in mind what Tina had said about her niece, all the medication.
‘I won’t calm down,’ she said, that surly tone, clenched jaw. ‘People have been telling me my whole life to calm down.’
‘Hailey, you’re going through a lot right now.’
‘I am, Mrs. Knox. I’m going through a lot, and thanks to that stunted little freak daughter of yours, that little monkey-‘
A lurch in her chest, her voice rising. ‘Don’t you dare talk about-‘
‘I thought you were my friend.’ Her voice hard, hammering. ‘I thought you were a decent person. Maybe you are. But I’m telling you this: you have no clue about that thing under your roof.’
‘Jesus, Hailey, what do you-‘
‘Your daughter’s a fucking animal…”

A gardening accident disfigures the foot of Katie and Eric Knox’s young daughter Devon. Looking for an outlet for her energy they try different activities when Devon decides she wants to try gymnastics. To their amazement, their daughter is terrific at the sport and now at the age of fifteen, Devon Knox is considered a prodigy and Olympic hopeful. Their gym and small town rally around Devon as she pursues her dream. But mere weeks before the final competitions, a violent death rocks their small community. Now Katie must fight to hold her family together and keep Devon focused on her goal. But Katie is drawn in to the mystery of the death of the young boy they all knew.

As she begins to unravel the secrets at the center of the mystery, Katie realizes that she may not know her husband, her friends and even her own child as well as she thought she did. Katie Knox realizes she must come to terms with what she is willing to live with to help her daughter Devon achieve her dream.

Megan Abbott writes thrillers. Some of sexual, some are violent, some are eerily suspenseful. But all have a pace that takes the reader by the throat and doesn’t let them breathe until they are done. You Will Know Me is the kind of book you read in one sitting and if you don’t, you are hoping your day passes you by quick enough so you can get back to it as quick as you can. It is that good and Megan Abbott is just that damn good.

There is a moment here, in the book, an epiphany of sorts when the truth is revealed that the reader as well as Katie, wants to slip back into denial. Then comes the real question, the mystery behind the mystery, how much is the truth worth? If you have sacrificed your family and your life for a dream, are you willing to sacrifice the dream and all your hard work, for the truth? And there, like a stiletto between the ribs, slips in the blade.

Very well done.

Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris

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Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris is a taunt thriller whose slow reveal will have your pulse racing to the end, once it actually gets started. Let’s get one thing out of the way, and honestly this crap has got to stop. This is not the next Gone Girl. Seriously can we hire a marketing department with some originality? There is no next Gone Girl! Gillian Flynn hasn’t even written another book (and no The Grownup does not count) since Gone Girl and that was in 2012. Five years ago. Enough already, get over it!

But Behind Closed Doors is the first book by B.A. Paris and the one an only Behind Closed Doors. Given its due and an opportunity, this book will hook you and have you flipping pages as fast as your mind can process what is happening. Then you will go back and think wait, did I miss that? How is this happening now? Twists come strong and fast and the secrets when revealed will amaze and stun.

“…I look around the room that has been my home for the last six months. There isn’t much, just a bed, a barred window and another door. It leads to a small bathroom, my only portal to a different world, where a shower, basin and toilet stand, a tiny cake of soap and towel its only ornaments.
Although I know every inch of these two rooms, my eyes continually search them, because there is always the thought that I might have missed something that would make my life more bearable, a nail that I could use to etch my distress on the edge of the bed, or at least leave some trace of me should I suddenly disappear. But there is nothing. Anyway, it isn’t death that Jack has in mind for me. What he has planned is more subtle than that and, as always when I think about what is coming, I pray frantically that he’ll be killed in a car accident on the way home from work, if not tonight then before the end of June, when Millie will come to live with us. Because, after that, it will be too late…”

Jack and Grace are the perfect couple, there is one in every neighborhood. Jack works hard all day, his looks and wealth brimming with self confidence and Grace, sophisticated and charming. They throw the perfect dinner parties and she prepares the most exquisite meals. Never a place setting that isn’t perfect or a hair out of place. Jack seems to spoil Grace, flowers and endless attention. But as the saying goes, who knows what really goes on behind closed doors.

Grace’s life completely changed the day she married Jack, and so did he. Grace cannot make a move without Jack’s prior approval and as he begins to reveal the depths of his true depravity, Grace fears what is to come. For soon her younger sister Millie is coming to live with them and if Grace doesn’t do something soon, Jack will have Millie as well.

As is the case with most first novels, there are plenty of moments in this book that could have done with a second go over. The easy way Grace falls for Jack. His attention to her younger sister Millie being the once thing she fell most in love with him for. Ladies, is a man pays undue attention to your younger sister, it probably isn’t a good thing. His attention though at first seems so thoughtful and loving soon reveals itself as a way of controlling her. Then the big reveal into his dark and violent nature. Through it all she plays her part as the dutiful and loving wife.

But Grace isn’t the scared little girl that Jack thinks she is. No Grace is plotting and waiting for the moment to act. This too rings false. There was ample opportunity to reveal who Jack was, even with his threats of harming her family, her fake friends didn’t believe that Jack was all that good anyway and they probably would have loved the chance to expose him and bring down the facade of the perfect couple.

The little sister Millie is a terrific character. How she quickly sees through Jack and plots with Grace to get rid of him.

There are some really good characters here. Jack is truly disturbing and Millie heroic. Grace goes through so many phases that the one that finally emerges is a relief and a joy. But the situations that keep her in check just don’t ring true. Even then, the characters drive this novel and make it very much worth the reading.

A good, good read.