Phoenix Island by John Dixon
Publish Date: January 21, 2014
Rating: * * * *
Lord of the Flies meets The Brotherhood of the Rose meets Dead Poets Society
This is a chilling story of survival and humanity. Chilling because humans are capable of doing terrible things to each other. Survival because in order to survive, sometimes humans become inhuman. Humanity because humans are capable of rescuing each other and upholding each other’s safety, dignity, and sanity.
Carl Freeman, sentenced to 2 years at the Phoenix Island boot camp for juvenile offenders due to fighting one too many bullies, soon learns the judge was unwittingly correct about it being a “terminal” stop: kids die on Phoenix Island. Even more terrifying is that nobody on the outside knows or cares because everyone on the island is an orphan.
Carl finds that on Phoenix Island bullying is often rewarded. He learns that conformity would be easy, but maintaining one’s own identity and morality is both difficult and dangerous. He learns that friendship is both painful and necessary. He learns that contingencies, interpretations, could have turned his life into something entirely different. He learns that he needs to follow his own code of ethics, regardless of the cost to himself. Ironically, the island ultimately teaches him exactly what the court system wanted him to learn (albeit in a manner the court hopefully would not have sanctioned): to control his own behavior.
This is a difficult book, but an affirming one.
I received an advance reader copy through NetGalley.
The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick, narrated by William Dufris
Rating: * * * *
Homer, a boy with a talent for telling entertaining stories (some might call them tall tales) sets off on a heck of an adventure when he attempts to save his brother Harold, who was sold to the army during the Civil War. Homer meets a motley assortment of characters with interesting names like Professor Fleabottom.
William Dufris does an absolutely delightful narration of this story. All the character voices are distinct from one another, and each voice brings the character to life so that even minor characters become memorable.
Wildly funny and adventurous, the story nevertheless contains an undercurrent of sadness as Homer encounters kidnapping, thievery, war, incarceration, and death. The journey to recover Harold complete, Homer finishes up his account (mostly true) with humor and optimism, leaving the reader/listener wondering what is next for him – and knowing that whatever it is, it will be entertaining!
If you like this story and/or this narrator, you may also enjoy the Holmes on the Range series by Steve Hockensmith.
The Trial of Dr. Kate (Round Rock #2) by Michael E. Glasscock III
Rating: * * *
Shenandoah returns to the home of her youth to support childhood friend Dr. Kate Marlow and to write a newspaper article about the doctor’s arrest and upcoming trial for the murder of one of her patients. Set in 1952, The Trial of Dr. Kate explores social class structure in a small community in Tennessee through the eyes of a woman who escaped the bounds of her dirt-poor youth to become an independent working woman, a WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots), then a college-educated newspaper reporter.
This is an OK book, a quick read. It skirts some heavy issues – homophobia, sexism, alcoholism, racism, political maneuvering – without fleshing them out. There are a few anachronisms in speech, but nothing I find jarring. My only big beef is that the husband of the deceased patient doesn’t speak out until…well, you’ll see what I mean when you read the book.
If you like Nicholas Sparks’ books, you may also like this book.
I received an advance reader copy from NetGalley.
Jailbird by Heather Huffman
Rating: * * * *
A young woman convicted of murdering a socially connected young man escapes from prison after 10 years behind bars and re-learns how to hope, dream, plan…live. She meets Charlie and his daughter, who help her define normal. She is reunited with relatives she hasn’t seen since her conviction. She soon learns that the family of the man she killed is close to finding her and returning her to prison. With the help of good friends and lawyer Charlie, she is able to evade capture.
Huffman writes about social justice issues, but writes them in a non-preachy, very readable style. This is the second of her books that I have read. It comes complete with the expected happily ever after, but the happiness doesn’t come without cost. Social injustices and attitudes are highlighted, but not dwelt upon ad nauseum. A little simplistic perhaps, but palatable for that very reason.
Fatal Judgment (Guardians of Justice Book #1) by Irene Hannon
Rating: * * * *
US Marshal Jake Taylor reluctantly accepts an assignment to protect federal judge Liz Michaels, the widow of his best friend and the woman he believes caused his friend’s suicide. Thrown together due to the protection detail, Jake and Liz come to understand one another better. Meanwhile, the danger escalates and it becomes a life or death race to track down the bad guy before he reaches Liz.
One of the things I love about this book is that the Marshals always follow the rules. No rogue agents in this book: they follow procedure, they call for backup when appropriate, and they don’t take matters into their own hands.
Liz is strong and independent without being loud about it, and Jake is introspective, intelligent, and thoughtful. A winning combination of characters and characteristics.
Fatal Judgment is filled with tension, excitement, suspense, and drama, start to finish. I look forward to the next installment in the series.