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It is not often that I come across a grand tale that unfolds over decades and includes adventure across the land and sky, the pounding drums of war, religion, politics, romance, fast cars, fast boats, the love of a parent to a child, and characters who sweep you along with their words, actions and heart.

Frankly, it's almost exhausting to list all the parts of Vango: Between Sky and Earth that I enjoyed.

Vango
takes place in Europe between the two world wars. Written by Frenchman Timothee de Fombelle and translated by Sarah Ardizzone, there is a rhythm and tempo to the language that speaks to its historic nature. It reads easily but not casually; I truly felt like I was reading a book written in the 1930s although the pages move with more of a comic book speed than I expected. (This is a very good thing by the way.)

The title character, Vango Romano, is a young man who bursts onto the opening pages as he is accused of murder in Paris. Quickly the text moves from his rooftop escape, to the police, to those who witnessed his escape, to a mysterious meeting in Sochi, Russia and and then back sixteen years to Vango's own childhood in Sicily. The reader might be a little confused at first as the action jumps quickly in and out of different characters and back and forth across the map and time, but soon enough it becomes clear that everything is connected. (Also, the time periods and locations are clearly marked at each chapter.) Studying those connections is part of the joy in reading here, as Vango's life became more and more significant as each page turns.

There is no magic in Vango, this is realistic historic fiction where the bad guys are terrifying enough without adding fangs and fur. As the heroes and villains circle each other and the clues are dropped to Vango's past and future, the novel moves from thriller to mystery to political intrigue. By the final pages it all comes together and everyone plays their parts in grand fashion.

Big moves, big action, big issues are the stuff Vango: Between Sky and Earth are made of. Next up is the sequel, out now in Europe, Vango: A Prince Without a Kingdom. which I'm really looking forward to reading.


Set in 1983 Berlin, Going Over is a combination of romance and coming-of-age that dwells a lot more with the fallout of the Cold War than just about any book I have read for teenagers. It works because the plot is driven less by the international politics of containment then the angst of Ada, 16, and Stefan, 18, who are separated by the Berlin Wall. They don't have hopes of changing the world, they'd just like to hang out together when they want to which is not easy with all the concrete and guns between them.

Basically, Stefan's got to go over the wall.

Before we get to the adventure aspect ,(which is comparatively quite brief), Kephart immerses readers in the complicated relationship between Ada and Stefan, whose grandmothers are childhood friends who became separated when the wall was constructed. Over the years Ada and her grandmother traveled to East Berlin to visit, (a relatively common occurrence readers may not know about), and what began as a friendship between the children slowly became more.

Stefan's life is small; his future predetermined by the stringent rules of education and work that dominate socialist society. Ada, a graffiti artist who lives with her mother and grandmother and works in a small day care, is wide open to possibility. Her Germany can be grim as well, but the chance of what might happen next is something she embraces. Ada is all about taking big leaps and encourages (practically forces!) Stefan to consider big leaps as well. Fearlessness doesn't come easy to East Germans however, not with so many examples of how badly things can go when you try to be brave.

In hoping to persuade Stefan to leave, Ada collects reports on successful crossings and smuggles them in to him to read. (These are all true.) Bit by bit, Stefan forms a plan, while on the other side Ada watches and waits and dreams of a world where they are both able to imagine a future of their choice.

Going Over is a teen novel of far bigger ideas than most I have come across. The setting is brilliant and the split narrative, between Ada and Stefan, provides readers with a close look at just how different Berlin became after the split. (Which also makes the reunification that much more impressive.) There are so many novels set during WWII, while the Cold War remains stubbornly overlooked. I'm thus delighted with what Kephart has done here and find these characters, in their decidedly European setting, to be different in the best way. It's a thought provoking title with exceedingly likeable characters and a great ending; all of which make Going Over a winner.


[Post pic courtesy LIFE of a mother & daughter speaking across the wall in August 1961.]

Capsule reviews on several recent reads for those looking for a recommendation or two:

Young Woman in a Garden by Delia Sherman. This is the first short story collection from this prolific and outstanding fantasy author. Sherman is tough to pin down; her stories (and novels) are sly and wink a bit at expectations. Sometimes the fantasy elements are barely there--a whiff of a ghost story perhaps as in the title story, or suburban witchcraft in "Walpurgis Afternoon". The point is not always even the fantasy, as significant as it might be to the plot, but rather the characters and the setting and, (I love this), the language.

Delia Sherman writes sentences you want to read out loud and that, perhaps more than anything, is why I advise you to read each and everything she ever writes.

Unwept: Book One of the Nightbirds by Tracy & Laura HIckman. The set-up here is straightforward: Ellis is on a train alone with a nurse who is also caring for an infant. Most of her memory is gone and the nurse assures her that she is being sent to stay with family and friends in a small town to recuperate from a long illness. Everything will be better if she rests in Gamin with her cousin Jenny. But then of course, after she arrives, nothing is as it seems.

The tension in Unwept is outstanding and readers will find themselves flinching along with Ellis as she finds herself uncomfortable and alarmed while among the local literary group, "The Nightbirds," who claim to be her dear friends. As she puts things together, and finds more reasons to be afraid, the book shifts into thriller mode. It's set up for a sequel (of course) and I hope the reasons behind all this drama get fleshed out more. But a solid start and a true page-turner.

The Spiritglass Charade (A Stoker & Holmes Novel) by Colleen Gleason. Evaline Stoker, vampire hunter, and Mina Holmes, detective, return for this next adventure in an alternate Victorian London. This time the teens have been tasked to help a friend of Princess Alix , 17 year old Willa who has become obsessed with spiritualism as she searches for clues about her missing brother's whereabouts. The princess thinks Willa is being taken advantage of and Mina immediately agrees. There is a lot more going on though, including Charles Babbage's computing machines, vile murder, sleep walking, and vampires (of course!).

What I like about the Stoker & Holmes books is that the lead characters are not great friends. They are prickly characters who have been brought together by circumstance and continue to work together because otherwise they would be bored out of their minds. But Evaline & Mina don't especially like each other. They do however trust each other and that is important. In the midst of chaos, both professional and personal, they know they won't let each other down. Their evolving relationship is what draws me in even more than the mysteries themselves (which are always fun). Good stuff for the 13 & up crowd.

Nobody's Home: An Anubis Gates Story by Tim Powers. This novella might appeal more to fans of Powers and his wicked creepy 19th century London than anyone else, but I found it a lot fun to read, especially as the two main characters are young women who defy quite a few expectations.

Jacky Snapp is looking for the man who killed her fiancee Colin when she saves Harriet, who is under attack from the ghost of her husband. (Already crazy weird, right?) Post scuffle, Jacky and Harriet find themselves catching the attention of a lot London's ghosts and must travel to a barge moored below Westminster Palace called "Nobody's Home". They might have to pay in blood, but Nobody is their only shot to lose their attraction to London's ghosts. As it turns out though, Nobody knows a lot more about Jacky then she suspects.

Loads of atmosphere, breakneck pace, smart characters and no shortage of creepiness. It's short, fast and fun and includes outstanding illustrations from JK Potter. It's an expensive stocking stuffer, but Powers fans will be thrilled. (Excerpt here.)

And beyond these books there have been several for Booklist which I can't talk about and one for Locus which I can't talk about and....well, a couple of others but I'll post about them tomorrow.