Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Fall Reading 2023 The Last Party

A wealthy developer throws a New Year's Eve party and is found dead by midnight. Detective Constable Ffion Morgan from the North Wales Police is a native of the village where the crime happens. Could one of her friends or neighbors be the culprit? She and Detective Constable Leo Brady of the Cheshire Constabulary have met before, but don't really know each other. How well will they work together on the case? 

This story has a very atmospheric setting with the lake and the mountains. Lots of tension exists between the wealthy and the villagers. More tension crops up between Ffion and Leo as they work the case and try to work around their own frustration with each other. Both detectives have complicated family lives that also intrude on their time, occasionally leaving readers to wonder if they will be too distracted to close the case.

As the investigation continues, it seems that a large problem will be too many suspects and motives rather than a lack. So if you enjoy complicated plots, backstories that seep in around the edges of the ongoing case, and detectives who are human and prone to their own foibles - pick up a copy of this to enjoy over the holiday break. 

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Fall Reading 2023 Hamra and the Jungle of Memories

This Red Riding Hood tale set in Malaysia reimagines the adventures of a granddaughter and a wild beast. Rather than a wolf, there is a weretiger who exacts revenge for the rules of the jungle being broken. Rule 1 "Always ask permission before you enter." Rule 2 "Don't challenge what you can't see." Rule 3 "Never use your true name." Rule 4 Never take what isn't yours."  Rule 5 "If you hear someone calling your name, never, ever look behind you." As all those who are familiar with fairy tales know - "It is an unfortunate truth about rules that they must, by design, exist side by side with consequences.". 

Hamra is having a bad day when the book begins. Everyone has forgotten her birthday. Her grandmother is losing her memory. The COVID pandemic is keeping her parents away from home for long periods of time (nursing and making deliveries). So she might be forgiven for forgetting a rule that no one has ever explained the reason for. But even when she notices her error, she continues to break one rule after another. As a result she must complete a very dangerous quest or the weretiger will punish her family.

Descriptions of the jungle Hamra travels through, the market she visits, even the colors and smells of the foods that are mentioned all build a very definite image of the setting. As readers, we begin to suspect some of the forces at work behind the scenes. There are details in her grandmother's rambling stories that almost seem to match up with the current situation. Sometimes the weretiger lets a hint slip in conversation. We feel as if we are hunters stalking illusive prey as we follow these tracks through the pages.

Alkaf does an excellent job of capturing Hamra's simmering resentment against the state of her family and the fact that she doesn't even have the outlet of school with other kids because of the pandemic.  She thinks of her father spending all his time driving around delivering food and PPEs rather than taking groups on tours in his boat. "The boat stayed moored at the dock, just as Hamra stayed home with her aged grandparents, all of them bobbing in place and gathering dust." The author also endears Hamra's friend Ilyas to us, describing him as "a more awkward, teenage boy version of Mary Poppins, except with a Steve Irwin aesthetic."

This book is a great next read for someone who has enjoyed the Rick Riordan Presents books and similar stories based on folktales and lore from around the world. There is magic, danger, survival in the jungle, family, friendship, coming of age, and so much more. Those who read it will learn that "a child can change the shape of the story and in doing so, the shape of the world." Hand this book to a child and empower them to take charge of their own story.

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Fall Reading 2023 Shermy & Shake, the Not So Nice Neighbor

Shermy has plans for a perfect summer - quietly reading, working jigsaw puzzles, and collecting small treasures to keep in the pouch he wears around his neck. Shake has other plans. He is a messy eater, prefers to make his own rules for board games, and enjoys loud games such as street hockey. When Shake comes to spend the summer with his grandmother, he winds up next door to Shermy's family and disrupts Shermy's comfortable life. 

Anyone who has ever been forced to spend time with a companion who is a complete opposite will appreciate the frustration Shermy feels. Disrupted reading time. "Shake, I. Am. Trying. To. Read." Spilled lemonade. Noise when he wants quiet. At one point he even decides that if his mother "was going to keep inviting Shake, she should play with him." 

A short believable story of learning to appreciate differences among peers and finding what friends have in common. Perfect to read with children who enjoy realistic fiction.