Start the year off with a bang…

Check out these great reads to kick off the New Year!

The Wicker King

by K. Ancrum

Two boyhood friends that are so bonded the boundaries of their friendship often blur until they blend into one person. August feels responsible for Jack his fey and neglected best friend. They have girlfriends, casual relationships, but the center of their lives revolves around the soul-deep union they share. Much like knights of the middle ages their loyalty and devotion are proved only by what they would be willing to do for each other. Would they make the ultimate sacrifice?

They live in a private world, teachers, parents, and authorities are caught up in their own lives and too busy to see what is happening to the teens. It’s as though they live in a separate dimension, and parents assume that their kids don’t need nurturing or help. They are expected to fend for themselves. They are lost children, invisible and drowning with no help in sight.

So, like a tribe, the kids look after themselves in their own innocent way, dealing with things they don’t understand by using whatever tools they can. In other words, they make it up as they go along. A good comforting meal can everything better, and August strives to ‘fix’ his best friend with his inadequate choices. His actions become more desperate as he sinks under the responsibility of treading water with the dead-weight of his sick friend. A small circle of friends from both school and the local diner watch Jack’s decline, they are powerless to help as well.

The final source of Jack’s visions stunned me. I never anticipated it and wanted nothing more than to shake his parents as well as the entire school system.

Alone in the world, Jack and August come to learn the depth of their friendship knowing that as they grow they must address where it will lead them.

Although I read a Kindle version, enough people in the buddy read shared how brilliantly the paperback was put together. This was a multimedia book, a perfect example of show, don’t tell. Ancrum uses everything to display Jack’s steady descent into madness, August’s frenzied attempts to keep him from disaster all with micro media. Detentions slips, recipes, scribbled notes create a snapshot of actual lives and as a reader, made the boy’s pain more painful and real. This was just a brilliant book that touched my heart.

How to Fracture a Fairy Tale

by Jane Yolen

Wickedly delightful and full of fun, Jane Yolen takes the world of fairy tales and stands them on their heads. No one is safe, whether they are trolls, dragons, or flighty beauties. Cinderella, Snow White, and other iconic folktales are dissected and in some cases, have a new modern spin. Abused princesses are empowered by their brains rather than a saved by a man. Jewish, Asian, and Greek myths and stories are dusted off and given a modern treatment that makes them both ironic and more acceptable to new interpretations. Jane Yolen, you kept me occupied for an entire flight and I had to be reminded to leave the plane when we landed. I was too engrossed to notice.

The Hamilton Affair: A Novel

by Elizabeth Cobbs

Prior to seeing the musical, I had a hazy idea that Hamilton was not in the “boys club” that became the founding fathers. After all, he was never elected President. The Broadway show made me curious and four books later, I have to say how much I enjoyed Cobb’s novel.

Solid and unpretentious, The Hamilton Affair humanizes all the key players. The games of politics were as dirty then as it is now.

I especially loved reading about the Hamiton’s at home, his devotion to the family, as well as his daring role in the revolution. His courage and passion in all parts of his life, make Hamilton truly larger than life.

The book gives the reader a rudimentary snapshot of life during the Revolutionary War. Family sacrifices, like Eliza’s father and mother, the Schuyler’s and Washington’s are described, bringing new meaning to the fight for liberty.

In the states, we learned about the Revolution, the stories about Valley Forge, the different battles, British soldiers taking over the local homes, but it is taught by rote and equally flat. The giant undertaking of breaking with the mother country, risking everything one hold’s dear, the extreme chutzpah to demand independence and then the arduous task of organizing a government from scratch, with no clear example to model- the sheer enormity is both exhausting and fantastical. Yet, they did it. And most American’s don’t even think about it beyond a fireworks display or President day sales.

The book was a terrific primer to give the players substance. I wish it was not as rushed. I liked losing myself in Cobb’s eighteen century New York, or Philadelphia.

Many have complained that the “affair” is not mentioned until the last third of the book. I think Hamilton’s entire life was an “affair.”

First, it was the stain of his birth, his fight to lead a battalion rather than take a desk job, the marriage above his station, his insistence of his ideas for the creation of the budding nation, the infamous duels, the list goes on. I suspect his entire life Hamilton was treated with disdain, his work ridiculed and his affairs, whether business or personal, were fodder for the gossips.

Fools and Mortals: A Novel

by Bernard Cornwell

Bernard Cornwell changes gears and writes a thrilling novel about the birth of theatres in Elizabethan England. Realistic and with great detail, the reader is flung back in time to see, hear, and smell sixteen century London through the eyes of Richard Shakespeare, William’s younger brother.

A failed carpenter’s apprentice he escapes the poverty of home to run away to throw himself on his older and more successful brother. The busy playwright sticks his sibling with an unscrupulous reverend, where Richard learns not only the art of theatre but the art of thieving, as well.

Richard grows old enough to play females in his brother’s plays but yearns for lead male roles, and the two brothers antagonize each other epically.

When a play is stolen, Richard proves himself to be not only resourceful but brave and loyal, too. All’s well that ends well, and the characters, like a Shakespearean comedy all fall into place.

Beautifully and lyrically written, Fools and Mortals provides a detailed picture into the birth of English theater and manages to humanize the players so that the reader can lose themselves in the blurry lines of the actors and audience.

Beartown: A Novel

by Fredrik Backman

Beartown literally starts with a bang and it’s a rush to the finish. Hockey is the center of everyone’s life in this small Swedish town that would be anywhere int he world. Impoverished and stifled, the only real economy is hockey.

When a terrible incident threatens the star player, folks react with selfish self-righteousness, tearing apart the small town. Friends become enemies, justice is thrown to the wind, and many must question their own morality.

While it’s a slow buildup with many characters to keep track of, the second half of the story speeds recklessly to a nail-biting conclusion. Quick and thoughtful read.

White Chrysanthemum

by Mary Lynn Bracht

Tragic story about two sisters separated by war. Hana puts herself in harm’s way to protect her younger sister and finds herself transported to Manchuria to be a ‘comfort’ woman to Japanese troops. Raped and abused, her life derails when she is made a sex slave and must endure horrific conditions, her only solace is that her innocent sister is safe. Little does she know that her sister’s life takes a disastrous turn when North and South Korea fracture and she must deal with a police-style state. Forced into a marriage, the sister’s lives have a weird kind of looking-glass quality and the twist toward the end leaves the reader with a satisfying conclusion.