Great Debut: Hannah Kent

Hannah Kent was born in 1985 in Adelaide, Australia. When she was six she knew she wanted to be a writer, but her parents said – well you can write but you have to study so you can get a job. When she was 17, Hannah was faced with going to university and declaring a field of study. She was unsure and then heard about a year in a foreign exchange program offered through the Rotary. Hannah had never seen snow so she wrote that she wanted to go to Iceland, Sweden or Switzerland. She was chosen and sent to a small fishing village in Iceland in January.                                                                           Hannah discovered right away she was an outsider. Everyone knew of her but she didn’t really get to interact with many people. It was constantly dark and winter which made it harder. Her host family started taking her on little road trips. They started telling her stories of different parts of the landscape. She immediately figured out that the land was the important thread of connection between all the people. Once she started asking questions, learning the sagas, learning the language, she discovered she loved Iceland.

On one road trip, theyburialrites showed her three odd looking hills, and they told her the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir. Agnes was the last woman executed in Iceland in 1830 for the murder of two men while they slept and for burning down the farm. She and two others were found guilty and sentenced. Agnes and Friðrik Sigurðsson were sentenced to be beheaded and it was done on those hills. Hannah found herself thinking a lot about Agnes, and Agnes even invaded her dreams when she returned to Australia. Hannah decided to study creative writing at university and worked on a Ph.D. using Agnes’ story as her thesis.

Hannah started writing Burial Rites as Agnes’  story because of the lack of information she found on Agnes. Whether it was church records, stories, books, Agnes was portrayed as inherently evil. No good qualities were listed. This bothered Hannah because nothing is ever all good or all bad. She sought to use as much of the history as possible but also to write about what Agnes went through in her last days.

I recently hosted Hannah Kent at the Tattered Cover. I chose to listen to Burial Rites and was glad that I did before I heard the author speak about the book. The audio book drew me in, not only because of the reader and the strange sounds of the Icelandic words, names and places, but also because the writing is exquisite. This is Hannah Kent’s first novel.  Her characterization of Agnes and her final months on a farm with a family who was forced to house her until her execution were believable, heartbreaking, and sometimes as stark as the winter in Iceland.  Agnes is sent to wait out the time to the farm of District Officer Jón Jónsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderess in their midst, the family avoids speaking with Agnes. Only Tóti, the young, naive assistant reverend appointed as Agnes’s spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her, as he attempts to salvage her soul. As the summer months fall away to winter and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes’s ill-fated tale of longing and betrayal begins to emerge. And as the days to her execution draw closer, the question burns: did she or didn’t she?

The book has been well-received in Iceland as well as other countries. It has been optioned for film and Jennifer Lawrence has chosen to portray Agnes. No story is all good or bad. Agnes’ story – parts of it will never be known, but Hannah Kent gave her a voice and a plausible what might have been in this novel. There are reading guides and information in the back of the book.

~Lisa                                                                                         Program Liason – James H. LaRue

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The Promise by Ann Weisgarber

the promiseThe Promise is set on remote Galveston Island, off the coast of Texas, at the turn of the last century and Weisgarber does an excellent job giving the reader a sense of the period with her prose and writing style. She also gives the reader a wonderful sense of place. And then there are the small, but persistent reminders of the island’s flatness, only feet above sea level, which give the reader a terrible sense of foreboding and dread because the island, of course, is about to be hit by one of the most devastating hurricanes in history.

The story revolves around Oscar Williams, whose first wife, Bernadette, dies of malaria. On her deathbed she demands that Nan Ogden, her friend and their housekeeper, promise to always take care of Bernadette and Oscar’s son, Andre. Nan is of course shocked and hurt when Oscar impulsively marries a childhood acquaintance, Catherine Wainwright, a young pianist from Ohio who comes to the island to secretly escape her  troubled past.

We know from the first that Nan is a strong and capable young woman and that she will do anything for Oscar and Andre and to keep her promise to Bernadette. Catherine is also a strong woman, but in different ways, ways that are upsetting the balanced life Nan has come to enjoy with Oscar and Andre. However, the tensions between the two women give way to terror and thoughts only of survival when the hurricane hits the island.

I think this novel would be a great choice for book groups and discussion questions are available on the author’s website. The author also has photos of what Galveston looked like before and after the devastating hurricane hit in 1900. Also on the author’s website are links to music that Catherine might have played and popular songs that could be heard when the story takes place.

I think The Promise is also a good read alike for readers who enjoyed Erik Larson’s Isaac’s Storm.

~Allison                                                                Assistant Librarian – James H. LaRue branch

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The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

othertypistI listened to the audiobook and the reader, Gretchen Mol, was excellent. It transports you right back into the 1920s during Prohibition and you meet – one of the most fascinating, unreliable narrators you will probably ever read. Think of a cross between The Talented Mr. Ripley and Rules of Civility. It is 1923. Rose Baker is a typist in the New York City Police Department on the lower east side. Confessions are her job. The criminals admit to their crimes, and like a high priestess, Rose records their every word. It is a new era for women, and New York City is a confusing time for Rose. Gone are the Victorian standards of what is acceptable. Now women bob their hair short like men, they smoke, they go to speakeasies. But prudish Rose is stuck in the fading light of yesteryear, searching for the nurturing companionship that eluded her childhood and clinging to the Victorian ideal of sisterhood.

But when glamorous Odalie, a new girl, joins the typing pool, despite her best intentions Rose falls under Odalie’s spell. As the two women navigate between the sparkling underworld of speakeasies by night, and their work at the station by day, Rose is drawn fully into Odalie’s high stakes world and her fascination with Odalie turns into an obsession from which she may never recover. Secrets, dark alleys, beaded gowns, bootleggers, murder, – what more could you want from a story. It will be a great book club read – I promise – you will probably gasp at the ending – like I did.

~Lisa                                                                             Program Liason - James H. LaRue branch

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The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley

deepestsecretA terrible accident takes place and someone you know is killed. What would you do if you caused this accident? Would you keep it a secret? Would you admit you did it and chance losing everything you hold dear? This is the premise of The Deepest Secret, and the dilemma faced by its main character, Eve Lattimore. Compounding Eve’s dilemma and driving the decisions she makes is her son Tyler, who suffers from xeroderma pigmentosum, a very rare condition called XP, which makes him fatally sensitive to light. Eve believes that no one, including her husband, is capable of taking care of Tyler the way she does. If she were sent to prison Tyler would die without her.

While Eve’s secret is heart-wrenching and tragic, it isn’t the only one being kept by the characters in this book. In describing her characters, Buckley has described the people living in any suburban neighborhood. With everyone absorbed in their own concerns and complacent about everyday life, how much do we know about our neighbors and the deepest secrets held by our loved ones?

I think The Deepest Secret would make a great book for discussion groups and discussion questions are available on the author’s website. I think it would be a great read alike for William Landay’s Defending Jacob and for those people who enjoy the books of Jodi Picoult.

Currently this title is only available from DCL in book format.

~Allison                                                                  Assistant Librarian - James H. LaRue branch

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Book Lover’s Evening- James H. LaRue Library

Another wonderful evening for book lovers was hosted by Lisa Casper at the James H. LaRue branch on April 2.  Lisa and other staff at JHL library created a list of books for the event, but to learn more about some of Lisa’s picks for the evening, read on!

51b0yXKJNiLDenver’s Historic Elitch Theatre – a Nostalgic Journey by Theodore A. Borrillo

This book was just given to me by a co-worker who was taking Mr. Borrillo’s OLLI class. If you are a Denver native and attended events at the old Elitch Theatre, you might find this history really interesting. The theatre operated from 1890 to 1987 and due to the hard work of Mary Elitch and others, like Helen Bonfils, Denver had a great summer stock all those years. From Sara Bernhardt to Harold Lloyd to Debbie Reynolds and Harv Presnell to Grace Kelly to Robert Redford and William Shatner – there were great plays, concerts, and shows there. This book is an excellent chronicle. Borrillo is a local author and I recommend this book to anyone interested in Denver’s history or theatre history.

 bookcover.phpThe Woman Who Wouldn’t Die by Colin Cotterill

I have fallen in love with the mysteries that Cotterill writes, like this latest in the Dr. Siri Paiboun series. The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die is an adventure again featuring the ancient, spirit-haunted, cantankerous  Siri Paiboun. I listened to this book and to Slash and Burn as electronic audiobooks. The reader really brings the characters to life in these funny, quirky mysteries set in 1970′s Laos. In this one, a very strange thing has happened in a small Lao village.  A woman was shot and killed in her bed during a burglary; she was given a funeral and everyone in the village saw her body burned. Then, three days later, she was back in her house as if she’d never been dead at all. But now she’s clairvoyant, and can speak to the dead. The long-dead brother of a Lao general has enlisted the mysterious woman to help the general uncover his brother’s remains, which have been lost at the bottom of a river for many years. Lao national coroner Siri Paiboun and his wife, Madame Daeng, are sent along to supervise the excavation, and things get interesting.

bookcover.phpBlood Always Tells  by Hilary Davidson

Hilary Davidson’s Blood Always Tells is a twisted tale of love, crime, and family gone wrong, by the multiple award–winning author of The Damage Done and Evil in All Its Disguises. If you haven’t discovered this author – you are in for a treat.  I have enjoyed all of her books. Dominique Monaghan just wanted to get even with her two-timing, married boyfriend, a washed-up boxer stuck in a toxic marriage to a dangerously spoiled socialite. However, an elaborate blackmail scheme soon lands her in the middle of an unexpected kidnapping…and attempted murder. But who is actually out to kill whom? Desmond Edgars, Dominique’s big brother, has looked out for his wayward sister ever since their mother was convicted of murder many years ago. When he receives a frantic phone call from Dominique in the middle of the night, he drops everything to rush to the rescue. But to find out what has really happened to his sister, the stoic ex-military man must navigate a tangled web of murder and deception, involving a family fortune, a couple of shifty lawyers, and a missing child, while wrestling with his own bloody secrets.You can meet Hilary on April 25th at 7:30pm at the Colfax Tattered Cover Book Store!

bookcover.phpWhat Changes Everything  by Masha Hamilton

What Changes Everything is truly an American story on an international stage, told through an ensemble of heartening characters. In a gamble to save her kidnapped husband’s life, Clarissa Barbery makes the best decisions she can in the dark nights of Brooklyn. Stela Sidorova, who owns a used bookstore in Ohio, writes letter after letter as she tries to comprehend the loss of a son on an Afghan battlefield and to reconnect with the son who abandoned her when his brother died. Mandy Wilkens, the mother of a gravely wounded soldier from Texas, travels to Kabul to heal wounds of several kinds. At the same time, What Changes Everything is the story of two Afghans who reveal the complexity of their culture, the emotions that hold it together and those that threaten to fracture it. These lives are braided into an extraordinary novel about the grace of family. I wish everyone would read her and learn about her work – she is not only a beautiful writer and a journalist who has covered everything from the Soviet Union to Afghanistan and Iraq,  she is the founder of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. Hamilton also wrote 31 Hours,  and The Camel Bookmobile, –she actually started the Camel Bookmobile!

~Lisa Casper/djc                                                                            James H. LaRue branch

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Volunteer Views

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                                                                    Enjoy these four and five-star book reviews by Douglas County Libraries’ volunteer reviewers. To learn more about participating as a volunteer eBook reviewer, sign up for the Douglas County Libraries’ Virtual Volunteer opportunity located at www.VolunteerConnectDC.org

windowThe Window by Jeanette Ingold

The Window offers a bit of something for everyone in its enjoyable combination of teen angst, family drama, U.S. history and supernatural mystery. After a tragic car accident leaves her mother dead and Mandy blinded, she is taken in by her mother’s long-lost birth family. An independent soul, Mandy struggles to adapt to an unfamiliar lifestyle with a family she’d never met. New friendships and a mysterious supernatural window providing a link to the past helps Mandy heal old wounds and gain new insight into her elusive family history. The uplifting transformation that affects each of the characters in this charming tale brings to mind a variation of a well-known saying: “When one door closes, The Window opens …”          Rated 4 stars- eBook                                                                          Nora – Volunteer at PA

bishopButchCassidyThe Bishop Meets Butch Cassidy by Ralph Reynolds

The author shares his insight and appreciation of the old west in this simple yet compelling tale of love, loss and survival. He draws us in with a unique cast of characters and keeps us guessing as to their individual fate with clever twists and turns. This quick read of 158 pages left me asking for more. Add another Ralph Reynolds fan to the list!                                                                                                                Rated 4 stars -Book                                              Linda -Volunteer at PA

winterofSecretssWinter of Secrets: A Constable Molly Smith Mystery                 by Vicki Delany

Winter of Secrets opens with a tragic automobile accident in which a driver of an SUV loses control on an icy road and plunges into the river. Young Constable Molly Smith is first on the scene where they soon recover the bodies of two young college students who were on a skiing vacation in the small resort town of Trafalgar, B.C. Sgt. Winters is called in to investigate what turns out to be a suspicious death. The investigation is hampered by the less than truthful responses of the college friends and the sister of one of the deceased. The story is fraught with complicated teenage emotions and difficult family dynamics. It culminates in a post sweep search on the slopes of the local ski resort.                                                                                                                                                                                 Rated 4 stars – eBook                                                                Sheryl - Volunteer ar JHL/HI

 toMarryEnglishLord To Marry an English Lord by Gail MacColl

This book is a hidden gem for fans of the addictive PBS Masterpiece series Downton Abbey. Previously out of print, it has been made accessible again by Workman Publishing, complete with juicy stories and fascinating details about the many real-life American heiresses who married into European, particularly British, nobility. The transition from book to eBook did play havoc with the layout, but after getting used to it I found the book an easy read. It had the added benefit of giving me a deeper understanding of Edith Wharton’s  The Age of Innocence and The Buccaneers, and had me reaching again for those classics.                                               Rated 4 stars – eBook                                                                    Chris – Volunteer at JHL/HI

shadowyHorsesThe Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley

This intriguing book that has a little bit for everyone, from fantasy to romance to history to supernatural. I was easily drawn into the lyrical and magical world created by Susanna. I personally was able to identify with Verity’s struggle to believe the magical.

Rated 5 stars - eBook                                     Juliet – Volunteer at JHL/HI

 

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Now That’s Romantic!

I’m very picky when it comes to historical romances, but here are three wonderful books—two written by authors that I consider masters of this genre.

luckiest ladylondon bookcoverThe Luckiest Lady in London by Sherry Thomas

Sherry Thomas is one of my historical romance sure bets. This story, about the seriously jaded young Felix Rivendale, Lord Wrenworth, and the intriguing Louisa Cantwell, is a perfect example of why. Louisa is in need of a wealthy husband whose fortune will save her large family, and there is no denying she is strongly attracted to Felix, the “Ideal Gentleman”. But Louisa knows better than to trust the likes of Lord Wrenworth, who oozes bad news from every handsome pore. Her reticence only serves to attract Felix, whose initial plan is to play the field, taking what he can get.  Every wonderful scene is expertly depicted and detailed, and the characters’ cleverly written exchanges are a delightful mix of humor and sensuality. This story, the first in a trilogy, will not disappoint even the most discerning historical romance reader. Both Library Journal and Kirkus selected it as one of their best books of the year—and get this: NPR! Wait-what?

arrangementThe Arrangement by Mary Balogh

Mary Balogh is another diva in the realm historical romance, and I mean that in the best possible way. What could be more run of the mill in Victorian Romance than the arranged marriage—meant to serve every purpose save for love? But, hey, this is a romance where neither the story nor the characters are average. Not when Balogh does the telling. Here we have a wounded hero, Vincent, who was in fact blinded while fighting in the Napoleonic War. Nevertheless, he is a viscount and caps are being set for him, even though he believes that above all other emotion, his potential brides feel pity for him. Then he meets and becomes intrigued by Sophia, a poor and quiet young lady, whose nickname, Mouse, sort of says it all. The thing is though, Sophia treats him like a man, not an invalid. The pair take control of their own destiny in a most satisfying and gentle romance. This is the second book, and best so far, in a series of stories about damaged heroes, called the Survivor’s Club. The Proposal is the first book, and the next installment comes in July.

autumnbrideThe Autumn Bride by Anne Gracie

Once you get past the implausible premise that sets up this story, the characters take over and create an atmosphere that is delightfully engaging. Abby has been working as a governess since leaving her younger sister behind at the orphanage where they grew up. But all that changes after Abby bravely rescues her sister and two other girls from a ruinous fate involving kidnapping and brothels, and the girls vow to stay together no matter what. This is the first in the Chance Sisters Romance series, and with some of the characters already poised for their own stories, I’m looking forward the next one.

Enjoy these satisfyingly diverting historical romances- they are good fun!

~djc

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The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger

DivorcePapersWell there’s nothing much funny about a divorce, but in the hands of Susan Rieger, The Divorce Papers manages to be clever, sharp and pretty humorous, too. Told via e-mails, letters, transcripts and articles, the story chronicles what happens after Mia’s husband of 18 years, a successful physician, serves her with divorce papers while she’s having lunch at a tony restaurant.  Sophie is the young criminal lawyer who gets sucked into handling this case, because Mia takes a shine to her and Mia’s dad is one of the firm’s important clients.  Mia doesn’t want to take her husband for all he’s got, but she does want to make him sorry. Sophie, who admits that she likes having her clients locked up, where they can’t get to her, is way out of her comfort zone here. She also starts to get uncomfortably aware of her own relationship problems—not only with her parents, but with colleagues, friends, lovers, and most importantly, herself.  Kirkus and PW give Starred reviews to this sophisticated romantic comedy. I like novels written in the epistolary style because when they are well done, they are fast paced, yet still feel very intimate. Susan Rieger throws together more legal documents than you might have thought existed with characters that could be stereotypical, but somehow it all seems fresh. She graduated from Columbia Law School so it’s no wonder that this book feels like you are getting a real insider look at what’s going on in Sophie’s world.

~djc

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Un-remarried Widow: A Memoir by Artis Henderson

unremarried widowWhile no one can be certain what they are getting themselves into when they marry, it can be argued that military spouses face an additional set of challenges. And what are the chances that a free-spirited, ambitious girl with big plans for herself would decide to marry a soldier during wartime instead? This memoir chronicles both a real life love story and Artis’ journey through the tragic loss of her husband, Miles, in a non-combat related helicopter crash in Iraq.

After four months of marriage, and before Artis could even make sense of her conflicted feelings about military life, she became a military widow. From five-year old girl– whose father perished when he crashed his small plane with Artis onboard–to aspiring journalist and on to army wife and widow, Henderson manages to share a story that is both moving and highly readable. She discovers that, along with love, grief is also a highly personal experience. Un-remarried Widow is thought provoking enough to stimulate great discussions for book groups.

~djc

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New Books for Spring

We are always on the lookout for new books here at DCL.  Below are a few of my top new book picks for spring. See the complete list by going to the Booklists tab at the top of the page, or by selecting HERE.

girlwithclockforheartThe Girl with a Clock for a Heart by Peter Swanson      Marketed as an atmospheric tale of romantic noir with shades of Hitchcock, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart is being compared to Gillian Flynn’s runaway hit, Gone Girl. It has already been optioned for a movie- not bad for a debut novel!                             George Foss, a forty-year-old employee of a Boston literary magazine, has passed the age when he thinks he might fall madly in love or take the world by storm, or have anything truly remarkable happen to him. He spends most of his evenings at his local tavern talking about his day and the Red Sox. Liana isn’t just an ex-girlfriend or the first love George could never forget. She’s also an enigma and quite possibly someone who was involved in a murder years ago.  But suddenly, she’s back—and she needs his help. She says that some men are after her and that they believe she’s stolen money from them, and they will do whatever it takes to get it back. Soon his quiet life is gone as George is pulled into a terrifying whirlpool of lies, betrayal, and murder from which there is no sure escape. Bold and masterful, full of malevolent foreboding and subtle surprises, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart promises to be an addictive, nonstop reading experience. I want to read it, if just to find out where this great title comes from!

mind of winterMind of Winter by Laura Kasischke                                          This dark and chilling tale, by award-winning poet and novelist Laura Kasischke, is being called part Joyce Carol Oates and part Chris Bohjalian.                                                                                   Thirteen years ago, Holly Judge and her husband Eric adopted a pretty little black-haired girl, named Tatiana, from a Siberian orphanage. Now fifteen, and more beautiful than ever—Tatty has also become disturbingly erratic. What’s more there are some creepy things happening around the house- their entire CD collection gets scratched up –the cat disappears, people have mishaps. On a snowy Christmas morning, Holly wakes up unable to ignore the fragments of a nightmare floating on the edge of her consciousness. Could something bad have followed them from Russia?                                                                                                                                                    As a blizzard rages outside, Eric gets stranded while picking up his parents at the airport. Holly and Tatiana are snowed in at home together. With each passing hour, Tatiana’s mood darkens, and her behavior becomes more ominous, until Holly finds she no longer recognizes her daughter. This haunting psychological thriller about an increasingly troubling relationship between a mother and daughter, is told from Holly’s point of view, through flashbacks and her internal dialog. But as the story unfolds, the author deftly builds upon the disturbing notion that Holly may in fact be the unstable one… Yikes.

 Here are two more outstanding debut books set on the planet Mars. They are radically different, but I’m guessing they will both be hits.

theMartianThe Martian by Andy Weir

What do you get when you have a being in possession of not only great resourcefulness and sharp intelligence, but also unerring optimism and humor? You get The Martian. His name is Mark Watley, and he is part of a team of American astronauts who are gathering information on Mars.                                                             When a big storm hits, it forces the team to abandon their mission on the planet’s surface. Unfortunately the storm literally blows Mark away, isolating and injuring him AND rendering him inaccessible to the others. Assuming their lost team member is dead, the remaining astronauts reluctantly call off searching and make a hasty getaway while they can.  Meanwhile, Mark wakes up and takes the situation in, realizing he no longer has a way to communicate with his team, or anyone on Earth. He is truly stranded, all alone, on Mars. His ingenuity and bravery make for a fascinating and creative survival story that unfolds as Mark addresses each new situation he encounters. Best of all he tells the story himself, through the entertainingly humorous log entries he faithfully records.                                                                                                                                Any fan of straight up Science Fiction will likely love this book. I am not a big fan of the genre myself, but I found this book to be clever, exciting and thoroughly entertaining. It looks like Andy Weir has managed to write a great Sci-fi book that will appeal to a lot of people who might believe that they don’t like Sci-fi.                                                                  The Martian reminded me a little bit of the recent hit movie, Gravity, another space story which explores the human capacity for ingenuity and hopefulness in a crushingly hopeless situation.

red risingRed Rising by Pierce Brown

It’s been a while since I got so immersed in a book like this, which I want to describe as The Hunger Games and Divergent meet Harry Potter on steroids, with a Sci-fi twist.                                                Darrow is a miner who toils with his people in the caves beneath the surface of Mars. Their ongoing goal is to create the living conditions on Mars that will make it habitable for future generations of humans, and they have worked there for generations.  They are the Reds, the lowest caste of human society on Mars.  Because the life of a Red is not a long one, 16-yr old Darrow is already married to a girl his age. When his young wife EO is publicly executed, he is pulled into a plot to infiltrate the highest caste on the planet. That’s when he discovers that everything he knows is a lie.                                                                                 To rise to the pinnacle of Martian society as a Gold, he’ll need all his strength and wit, as well as a will to survive and a purpose that keeps him focused and sane–justice.  Darrow is sent away to a school where the students are divided into units and the learning involves a constant struggle to succeed, or literally die trying. Luckily, Darrow is a quick learner. He does well, and he also learns important lessons about the nature of loyalty, honor, bravery, and the humanity that binds people no matter where they are born.                                      This is not a YA novel, there are some pretty mature themes and plenty of violence. The author has said that he hopes readers of all ages will like it and I think this book will be a huge hit for adults and older teens. It’s very clear that Pierce Brown is at home on the Mars of the future. I’ll be ready when the next book comes out!

Happy spring! Happy reading!                                                                                                             ~ djc

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