May 17, 2013

Summertime reads on the horizon

Posted in Between Us column, Books at 6:56 pm by dinaheng

In my mind, summertime reading should be fun for all ages. Whether it’s a good mystery, a romantic tale, or a story that teaches us about another culture, books that take us away from our everyday lives can give our minds a vacation wherever we are.

Anyone interested in the political landscape of China will find an intriguing behind-the-scenes true tale in “A Death In the Lucky Holiday Hotel… Murder, Money, and an Epic Power Struggle in China” by Pin Ho and Wenguang Huang (Public Affairs Books, $27.99). Dinah Eng

The book, based on previously undisclosed interviews with officials and political insiders in China, uses the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood in November 2011 to reveal the kind of politburo-level power struggles that go on in China’s secretive Communist society.

Gu Kailai, the wife of former rising Communist Party politician Bo Xilai, pled guilty to murdering Heywood in 2011, but the authors raise questions about the evidence against her, and the political maneuverings that led to Xilai’s trial, which is still pending.

“We used this scandal to give people a broader context to the Chinese political system,” says Wenguang Huang, author of “The Little Red Guard” and a journalist whose articles and translations have appeared in The New York Times, the Paris Review and other publications.DeathInLucky

“Hollywood, or other businesses that want to do business with China need to see how it works. It’s all corrupt and shrouded in secrecy. You’ll learn how business is interconnected with politics, how law enforcement works, and how women are treated in China.”

A complex tale, the book is dense with details and not for those who are looking for a light read. But if you want to know how things really work in the world’s most populous country, this is the kind of investigative journalism worth reading.

China plays a key role in another summer thriller, this one an apocalyptic vision of a future predicted by the distant past in “The Eye of God” by James Rollins (William Morrow, $27.99). This novel, the next in Rollins’ Sigma Force series, will intrigue fans who enjoy this author’s signature style of combining scientific theories with historical and religious facts.

In “The Eye of God,” Sigma Force’s Commander Gray Pierce, aided by a pair of Vatican historians, delves into the mystery of artifacts that are confirmed to come from the body of Mongol king Genghis Khan. Couple that with the hunt for a crashed U.S. military research satellite in the wilds of Mongolia and China, and you have another prescient tale penned by a storyteller whose specialty is fast-paced action combined with  intellectual curiosity.

This leads me to one more China-related tale, “Chu’s Day” by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins Children’s Books, $17.99), which is a sweet picture book (aimed at ages 4 to 8) about a baby panda whose enormous sneeze has both humorous and disastrous consequences.

Chu'sDay_Hi Res cIllustrated by Adam Rex, the story came out of Gaiman’s desire to write a book so charming that even Chinese censors would be disarmed. I think he succeeded.

For parents with little ones building their reading skills, Mead Early Learning books are a good way to keep those minds active during summer vacation. For example, “Learning Through Hidden Pictures” ($4.49) teaches reading comprehension, math skills, science and more for preschool through kindergarten-age children. The hidden picture searches are engaging enough for adults to enjoy, along with their youngsters.

For pre-teens in search of adventure, “Summerkin” by Sarah Prineas (HARPER, $16.95) tells the tale of Fer, the rightful Lady of the Summerlands, who must fight for the right to rule her land in an enchanted world that exists alongside our own. Being half-human, Fer questions the rules that other royals follow in the way they reign over their subjects, giving readers encouragement that rules aren’t always meant to be obeyed.

Similarly, those 10 years old and older will enjoy a re-imagining of the King Arthur legend in “Otherworld Chronicles: The Invisible Tower” by Nils Johnson-Shelton (HARPER, $16.99). In this version, Artie Kingfisher’s world is turned upside down when the characters in his video game Otherworld come to life, and he finds himself charged with saving the world as the once-and-future king in the 21st century.

For readers 13 and older, Michael Reaves and Mallory Reaves have written a thought-provoking novel about Walkers, soldiers who can pass between multiple dimensions to keep peace, in “The Silver Dream” (HARPER, $18.99), based on a story by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves. (Yes, that’s the same Neil Gaiman who pens everything from picture books to adult science fiction.)

This sequel to “InterWorld” shares what happens when a young woman named Acaia becomes involved in the mission and life of Joey Harker, an InterWorld soldier whose colleagues are all iterations of him from different parts of the Altiverse, “a swirling maelstrom that contains all the infinite possible Earths that have existed, or might, or will exist.”

And for those 14 and older, a sci-fi romance that’s a fast-paced page turner (how’s that for a tongue-twister) can be found in “The Game: Book 1 — Rush” by Eve Silver (Katherine Tegen Books, $17.99).Rush hc c

In the book, teenagers are pulled from their lives, through time and space, to play a deadly game that results in the death of the Drau, terrifying alien creatures, or their own deaths. Miki Jones, who finds herself learning to be a leader in the game from the enigmatic Jackson Tate, must survive if she and her teammates are to save humanity. Be warned — as soon as you finish this one, you’ll immediately want more.

Clearly the sign of a good summer read.

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