Friday, June 26, 2015

Young Adult Review: Wind Catcher

Wind Catcher - Cover 

Title: Wind Catcher
Author: Jeff Altabee & Erynn Altabee
Publisher: Evolved Publishing, 2015, 324 pages
Source: Electronic review copy as part of book review blitz

Publisher's Summary:

Juliet Wildfire Stone hears voices and sees visions, but she can’t make out what they mean. Her eccentric grandfather tells her stories about the Great Wind Spirit and Coyote, but he might as well be speaking another language. None of it makes any sense.

When she stumbles upon a series of murders, she can’t help but worry her grandfather might be involved. To discover the truth, Juliet must choose between her new life at an elite private school and her Native American heritage. Once she uncovers an ancient secret society formed over two hundred years ago to keep her safe, she starts to wonder whether there’s some truth to those old stories her grandfather has been telling her.

All she wants is to be an average sixteen-year-old girl, but she has never been average-could never be average. Betrayed by those she loves, she must decide whether to run or risk everything by fulfilling her destiny as the Chosen.

 First off, though I picked this up thinking it was middle grade, in my opinion it is definitely Young Adult and a bit out of the usual range of my reviews. I give it that rating due to the age of the main characters, the level of violence, and a certain amount of focus on relationships. Secondly, I'll say right here that it wasn't really my kind of story, being both YA and sort of mystical, tapping into an unspecified Native American mythos. That said, it was a good book. The plot is fairly intricate, but doesn't drop threads, and the action is intense.

The book did take just a little longer to get to the point that is ideal. Those opening chapters felt particularly YA to me, focused as they were on Juliet's struggle to fit in at school. And in the end, I have to say that for the most part we don't need that set-up. 

I also felt a certain frustration with Juliet's refusal to go to the adults in her life--particularly her grandfather--and just say what's happening and ask the crucial questions. To be sure, I think she's right--she wouldn't have gotten a straight answer out of him. But it might have made some things go more smoothly. Of course, that's probably fairly realistic 16-year-old stuff.

In the end, though I was a bit taken aback by the direction the story went, I think it was well done. The action is a little derivative in some ways (the crystal sword reminded me a bit too much of a light saber), but I appreciate Juliet as a strong female lead who is both fully human and something more.

For fans of YA fantasy/science fiction, who are not put off by using Native American themes in unique ways. I'd say for ages 13 and up.

Full Disclosure: I was given an electronic review copy, but received nothing further from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest, not necessarily positive, review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

 About the Authors: Jeff Altabef & Erynn Altabef

Jeffrey and Erynn AltabefWind Catcher is a joint project between the father/daughter team of Jeff Altabef and Erynn Altabef. Jeff is an award-winning author with two published thrillers. He has a column on The Examiner focused on writing, and volunteers at the local community college. Erynn is an avid reader, dancer, and community activist who has just earned her Girl Scout Gold Award. When she’s not in high school, she loves reading performing in school musicals, baking, and watching movies with her friends. 








Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Photos: Death Valley #3

I'm out hiking, getting more photos to share! But here is a collection of scenes from our third day of Death Valley adventures--we rented a jeep and drove Titus Canyon, then the long long road to the Racetrack--the only place known where rocks move on their own.

For those interested in how-to, the Jeep rental is at Furnace Creek (by the lodge), and it costs through the nose--nearly $300 per day, plus gas. On the other hand, the cost of, say, destroying multiple tires on your own car and being stuck in the desert can be rather higher--like your life. So if you want to drive some of the gnarlier roads, I do recommend gnarlier tires than are on, say, a Prius. The jeeps seat 4 comfortably and a 5th person if the backseat people are tough.

Titus Canyon is a one-way drive from the hills east of the Valley down to the valley floor north of Furnace Creek. Along the way, we stopped at the ghost town of Leadfield, which lasted just one year.
The jeep.

The road climbs over Red Pass (wonder why that name? :D ) before dropping into Titus Canyon.
Just over Red Pass we found some of the best flowers we saw all trip. The very red soil set them off nicely.


In Leadfield, a few building are left to explore. I believe this large shed was the "restaurant." Nice view, anyway.

Mines are what it's all about. You don't want to enter any old mines, but I shot this with a flash looking into the mine. The entrance was lined with corrugated steel, which made the interesting blue reflections.

Thanks to my sharp-eyed sons, we got a real treat--a chuckawalla, sunning itself on a rock. Chuckawallas are large lizards whose main protection from predators is to jam themselves into a crack in the rocks and inflate themselves until they are wedged too tightly to be pulled out. This guy chose to pose nicely for us.
Due to habitat loss and, I believe, a proliferation of crows and ravens come for the garbage people leave, chuckawallas are getting a bit rare.

En route to the Racetrack, one passes a famous spot--Teakettle Junction. I think it started with a single abandoned tea kettle, but now people bring them to leave, decorate them, and even ask you to email photos of yourself with their kettle!
Second Son contemplates the selection of water-heating devices.
Finally reached the Racetrack late in the afternoon. The perfectly flat playa is dry most of the time, but when there is water, it settles out the silt, making the fine mud which dries and cracks into geometrical patterns.

Finally, the moving rocks! If you want to know how and why, read this article.
It came a long way.

We did miss most of the flowers (save that section of Titus Canyon), but the cactus bloom later, so we found some beautiful beavertail cacti in bloom on the Racetrack road.

Our trip took all day--from about 9 a.m. to after 7 p.m., and used a full tank of gas. It was expensive, but totally worth it!
Copyright Rebecca M. Douglass 2015

Monday, June 22, 2015

Mystery Monday: Statute of Limitations


Title: Statute of Limitations (Posadas County #4)
Author: Steven F. Havill; narrated by Stephanie Brush
Publisher: Original text, St. Martin's Press, 2006. Audiobook, Books in Motion, 2006
Source: Library (digital)

It's Christmas in Posadas, New Mexico, and all hell is breaking loose. The former town police chief suffers a heart attack Christmas Eve under dubious circumstances, the Sheriff has a pulmonary embolism Christmas morning, and in the afternoon there's a murder and then an attack on retired undersheriff Bill Gastner. Undersheriff Estelle Reyes-Guzman has her hands more than full, sorting out all the threads, keeping up with the medical reports, and occasionally racing home to deal with her two young sons.

As usual, Havill has created a tight, fast-paced police procedural (with some elements of the cozy. It's not particularly light, but is fairly character-driven with a great village setting, and no excessive grimness). My main criticism of the plot is that the subplot surrounding Estelle's home life and issues with her oldest son gets pretty much dropped in the end. I'm sure it turns up in the next book, but the thread ends up feeling like an unnecessary distraction. Aside from that relatively minor complaint, the plot is tight and holds together very well.

The audio-book narrator, on the other hand, drove me to distraction. By the 10th time she pronounced hijo as "hee-oh," I was ready to scream, if not to do actual violence. If I'd been able to get my hands on the print version right then, I would have switched, because the consistent mangling of Spanish words in a book laced with them really got old fast. Aside from that there was nothing intrinsically wrong with her narration (though I didn't like her voicing of Gastner), but it certainly wasn't one of those that struck me as perfect, either. I would have to say that I don't recommend the audio version.

This is a great series (Posadas County mysteries continue the Undersheriff Bill Gastner mysteries), and I recommend reading them in order, starting clear back with Bill Gastner's first appearance in Heartshot. They have a certain level of tension and violence, but nothing excessive, and always strictly as needed for the story. I do not recommend the audio book.

Full Disclosure: I checked Statute of Limitations out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."