Monday, July 18, 2011

Iron House by John Hart

Hart's novel The Last Child was one of my favorite reads of last year, so I couldn't wait to pick this one up, and I have to tell you, I literally could not put it down. I read this one in two days, which in the exta busy summer months just seems impossible to me, but it's true. The writing is so wonderfully rich and the story so exciting, that every chapter just kept me wanting to find out what would happen next.

Iron House is an orphange where the two brothers in the book, Julian and Michael, grew up after being abandoned and left for dead in a freezing river in wintertime. Julian is the weaker of the two and is constantly harrassed by older boys who are inexplicably cruel. Michael is his guardian until a terrible incident forces Michael to run away, just when a rich Senator's wife has come to adopt them. So Julian is given a life of privilege and Michael is forced into the world of organized crime by a boss who finds and "saves" him, training him to be an extremely skilled enforcer.

But eventually, Michael finds a woman who makes him see a future filled with love and family instead of guns and hatred, and he wants out. He is granted immunity by his adopted father, but when the crime boss dies, Michael is left to flee the others who are after the don's millions. The rest is an exciting game of cat and mouse with some disturbing family drama thrown in to make it more interesting. Hart's characters are wonderfully real and dynamic, and the action and drama are perfectly paced so that at every turn the reader is pulled deeper into the story. It is not a book for the squeamish, however, as many scenes are violent and at times, gruesome. But when it's a book about organized crime and childhood abuse, there can be no other realistic way to play it.

So if you like thrillers that make you turn page after page in the wee hours of the night, this is the one for you this summer. Give it a try and let me know if you love it as much as I did!

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

I like to keep up on the YA scene as much as I can, and so I thought I'd try the first in this series that has been wildly popular at the library. Fans of Twilight gravitate toward these fantasy books and always give rave reviews, and now I know why.

Clary Fray is just a girl (or so she thinks) living with her mother in New York City, hanging with her best friend Simon and working her way through a normal teenage life including conflicts about boys and her mother. But a chance encounter with a demon and some beings called Shadlowhunters in a local club change her life forever. The fact that Clary can see these supernatural beings while others cannot, is the first clue that she is different, and her quest to learn about this new world and how she fits in becomes the stage for some exciting supernatural conflict.

There are many interesting facets of Clare's new world that I found fascinating and different from other fantasy novels. These aspects make the story realistic and fantastic all at once, and get me to lose myself in their world. For instance, Clary discovers from Jace and his family that Shadowhunters are the beings who keep the human world safe from demons of the underworld. Demons are supposed to remain "down below" per an agreement they have with the higher powers. In the middle world are creatures like vampires and werewolves, fairies and witches, who are allowed to live in the human world as long as they don't bother the humans too much (or in other words, kill them.)The story of City of Bones revolves around a former Shadowhunter turned bad named Valentine who threatens to mess up this tenuous balance between worlds. Clary and Jace fight their way through hordes of demons in order to find out the truth about their own powers and heritage, giving the reader lots to get lost in: love, friendship, physical battle, and struggles of family loyalty. A rich world to be sure.

So, if you're ready to get lost in a good story of good vs. evil, with cool, realistic yet fantastical characters for some exciting summer fun, then pick up this set of novels right away. Let me know what you think!

The Night Journal by Elizabeth Crook

I've been wanting the to read this book for a long time because it sounded like it would be right up my alley. It took me a while to get through, mostly because the summer is super busy for me, but I did get bogged down a little in the details. The story, however, is wonderful and well worth the read.

Meg Mabry is an unmarried, soon-to-be-middle aged engineer who also takes care of her aging grandmother, known as Bassie. Bassie is responsible for publishing some journals that her own mother wrote while living in the western frontier. There has always been an odd tension, love/hate bond between Meg and Bassie that makes their lives full of conflict, and this relationship is further strained by Bassie's insistence that they travel to New Mexico to exhume the bones of Bassie's mother's dogs. This seemingly crazy request leads them both on a journey of discovery about love, their heritage, and the ties that bind lives together for all of history.

Interspersed with segments that are supposed to be the real journals of Hannah Bass, the narrative is rich with detail. I enjoyed the history of the early west and learned something about the mixing of Mexican and Anglo cultures during that time. There is also a nice romance element to the book that is compelling and realistic, but somehow very depressing to me at the same time, and I was a bit disappointed in Meg at the end, but I'm not sure why. I found all the detail in the book enjoyable, yet some may find it slow-moving. It is a book that makes you think about history, life, and relationships, giving the reader much to think about even after the last page.