1/100 – The White Hare by Michael Fishwick

I am trying for the first time in my life to read 100 books in 2020. I plan to document all 100 here. Hence, the 1/100 above.

I saw The White Hare at the local library and was intrigued.

A lost boy. A dead girl, and one who is left behind.
A village full of whispers and secrets.
When the white hare appears, magical and fleet in the silvery moonlight, she leads them all into a legend, a chase.
But who is the hunter and who the hunted?

It turned out to be the first book of 2020 for me and it is a good one.

A tad too much teenage angst for me (I’m clearly not the target audience) but a wonderful mix of tension and mystery with just enough myth and otherworldly aspects. A definite page turner despite not being a thriller or action style plot.

Kirkus captures what makes it such an enjoyable read:

Finely tuned prose, a rich sense of place, magical folklore elements, multidimensional characters, and a well-paced plot create a suspenseful contemporary tale of grief, retribution, and healing.

Evening Standard gets at some of the awkwardness as to target audience:

Michael Fishwick, a publisher-turned-novelist, retells the white hare legend in this coming-of-age story which wavers uncertainly between young-adult fiction and a crossover modern folk tale.

Forward Reviews artfully describes both the subjects touched on and the writing style:

Fishwick wields strangeness rather than certainty, and specificity rather than answers, in this rare offering filled with mystery and emotional depth. A treatise on the brutality of love and the pain it frequently leaves behind, The White Hare looks to the wild places and feral people that grief creates. The beauty of its prose lingers, a grace note amidst the heartbreaking realization that, often, “it’s hard to know how guilty you are.”

Like I said, solid start to 2020. Outside of some ambiguity about the age or message, and that ambiguity can be a strength, The White Hare is a lyrical and engaging read for ambitious readers of varying ages.

The Names of the Dead by Kevin Wignall

I am a long time reader of Kevin Wignall going back to 2004 and People Die.  Over the years he has explored a number of genres and categories and I have enjoyed them to varying degrees.  His most recent novel, The Names of the Dead, was released today and it felt like a return to “classic” Wignall to me.

Publishers description:

The Names of the Dead coverFormer CIA officer James ‘Wes’ Wesley paid the ultimate price for his patriotism when he was locked up in a French jail for an anti-terror operation gone wrong—abandoned by the Agency he served, shunned by his colleagues and friends, cut off from his family.

Now he is shattered by the news that his ex-wife, Rachel, a State Department analyst, has been killed in a terrorist attack in Spain. He also discovers that his young son, Ethan, is missing. But Wes didn’t know he had a son—until now.

Why was Rachel in Spain? And why did she keep his son secret from him?

Granted early release, Wes takes flight across Europe to search for the truth and exact his revenge. But can he catch the spies who betrayed him before they track him down? In order to find the answers and save his son, Wes realises he must confront the dark secrets in his own past—before it’s too late.

I was lucky enough to receive a review copy from NetGalley and found myself right back in the world and characters and situations of moral ambiguity, tension and violence.

Here is an exchange in a quick Q&A I did with Kevin in 2008:

I wrote that Conrad Hirst, as most of your books, was an exploration of identity, the nature of morality, and the dangers of self-deception. Is that fair? Accurate?

Yes to both. I’m interested in the fault lines between who we think we are and how others see us. And one of the inherent premises of all my work is that we live in a time of fluid morality, a time in which people are drawing their own boundaries, so I think it’s interesting to explore how people deal with that process, particularly people on the edges of society.

Well, “an exploration of identity, the nature of morality, and the dangers of self-deception” is a pretty good description of The Names of the Dead.  As with most Wignall novels there are a couple of threads.

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2019 Books in Review: The Neddiad

In an attempt to get back in the rhythm of blogging/reviewing I am recapping some of my favorite books read in 2019.

Book: The Neddiad: How Neddie Took the Train, Went to Hollywood, and Saved Civilization by Daniel Pinkwater

Format: Hardcover

Owned or Borrowed: Owned

Publisher’s Description:

The Neddiad book coverThe old powers try to come back, and the planet is plunged into chaos, and civilization is destroyed, and it gets all violent and evil…the old legends tell that a hero…with the sacred turtle, always…

Los Angeles, California.
Neddie Wentworthstein is the guy with the turtle.
Sandor Eucalyptus is the guy with the jellybean.
Sholmos Bunyip wants the turtle…and he’ll stop at nothing to get it.

This is the story of how Neddie, three good friends, a shaman, a ghost, and a little maneuver known as the French substitution determine the fate of the world.

Why I Read It…

Another habit I have is pursuing library sales looking for books in good condition, books on my TBR list, etc.  Trying to cut back on the ever growing stacks of books I have yet to read I started collecting books for my kids (always hoping we might read books together as a family too).  This was one of those books. Picked it up at a library sale and read it immediately. Good clean fun adventure with interesting characters and a sense of humor. Just what I needed for some stress release reading. Not only did I read it, but both my kids read it and we all really enjoyed it.

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2019 Books in Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon

There has been a odd phenomenon of late with me (really going back years). I still read quite a bit but I rarely post reviews.  There are lots of reasons for this which I won’t go into because I have blogged about the subject enough around here. But one of the things I want to work on in 2020 is focus.  ANd figure forcing myself to commit to something and working on putting my energies toward that is a good place to build focus.  So I had the idea of going back through the books I read in 2019 and blogging about each of them in a simple format.  This would allow me to get back in the practice of blogging/writing regularly and find out if such regularly blogging would revive this near-dead blog.  So find below the first attempt.

Book: The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Format: Kindle

Owned or Borrowed: Own

Publishers description:

Cover of The Girl Who Drank the MoonEvery year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the Forest, Xan, is kind. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon. Xan rescues the children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. As Luna’s thirteenth birthday approaches, her magic begins to emerge–with dangerous consequences. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Deadly birds with uncertain intentions flock nearby. A volcano, quiet for centuries, rumbles just beneath the earth’s surface. And the woman with the Tiger’s heart is on the prowl . . .

Why I read it…

I have a habit of picking up popular young adult/middle grade/children’s books because they are often creative and interesting in ways that “adult” books are not.  Or they just grab my attention for some reason.  This was one such book.  I marked it To Read in 2016, started reading it in fall 2018 and finished early 2019.  I believe it was the first book I marked as “Read” in Goodreads.  The book was something of a hit, which I am guessing sparked my interest:

  • Winner of the 2017 Newbery Award
  • The New York Times Bestseller
  • An Entertainment Weekly Best Middle Grade Book of 2016
  • A New York Public Library Best Book of 2016
  • A Chicago Public Library Best Book of 2016
  • An Amazon Top 20 Best Book of 2016
  • A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2016
  • A School Library Journal Best Book of 2016
  • Named to Kirkus  Reviews’ Best Books of 2016
  • 2017 Booklist Youth Editors’ Choice

Why I liked it…

This is tricky when I don’t put down my thoughts at Goodread quickly.  The star system is not much help given how inconsistent I am in rating something 4 stars when I enjoyed it but it didn’t wow me but also when I really enjoyed it.

Continue reading →

On Desperate Ground: The Epic Story of Chosin Reservoir–the Greatest Battle of the Korean War by Hampton Sides

The Korean War – one of the most brutal wars regarding the extreme cold in which it was fought and the massive numbers of enemy soldiers thrown against American and U.N. forces. On Desperate Ground by Hampton Sides revisits the heroic withdrawal (“fighting in another direction”) of the First Marine Division in the brutal cold from the Chosin Reservoir.

Sides takes an interesting approach to his description of the campaign. For the initial Chinese surprise attacks on the night of November 27, he writes detailed narratives of small unit experiences (platoon and company level). Sides then transitions to a broader view of the campaign at the regiment and division level (although he still includes stories of individuals struggling to survive the incessant Chinese attacks and the cold). For example, he describes the efforts of the Division’s engineers to repair a bridge that was blown by the Chinese and how the various units supported the engineers as they performed their work under fire.

This approach gives the reader a glimpse of the fighting at all levels of the Marine command.  Sides also thoroughly – rightfully so – praises the leadership of the Division commander General Oliver Smith. Smith’s calm, sometimes cautious, approach to battle was exactly what the Marines needed at the time. For instance, he ignored the X Corps commander’s order to push forward to the Yalu River prior to the main Chinese attack. Sides points out that this caution paid off because the Division was more concentrated at the time of attack. If Smith had heeded the corps commander’s orders, the Marines would have been more easily cut off with little chance of breaking out.

Sides takes a less kind analysis of General Douglas MacArthur – supreme commander of U.N. forces. As with most historians that write about MacArthur – they either love him or hate him – Sides is no different. He begrudgingly credits MacArthur for Inchon (although Sides credits the resounding success more on Smith’s and his Marines’ actions than MacArthur), but he eviscerates MacArthur for his strategy of pushing to the Yalu River. MacArthur ignored obvious signs of aggression from the Chinese – even when Chinese troops were captured, he did not believe his own commanders that the U.N. forces were at risk of attack.

Sometimes the book does feel like a rah rah for the Marines, but it is mostly an objective look at the Marines who fought hard to save themselves and their fellow Marines.