The Apprentices by Maile Meloy; illustrations by Ian Schoenherr; G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 432 pages ($16.99). Ages 10 and up.
Meloy performed a kind of alchemy in “The Apothecary,” her wondrous 2011 novel, set in 1952, of an apothecary, his son Benjamin and Benjamin’s friend Jane, using a rare old book The Pharmacopoeia - with its secrets of plant elixirs and ways to alter matter and transform the body - to stop a nuclear test. The same winning formula - a thrilling adventure set against a backdrop of the Cold War and the aftermath of World War II - works its magic in this marvelous sequel, set two years later. Jane had her memory of events chemically erased for her own safety and has only a diary to go by. She is at a pricey private school working in the school’s chemistry lab on a desalinization experiment begun by her Chinese friend Jin Lo when she is framed by a classmate, the daughter of wealthy Mr. Magnusson, and expelled for cheating. Mr. Magnusson has plans for Janie as she quickly finds out, terrible plans that will eventually draw the characters of the first book together on a small island in the Pacific. Along with beautiful pacing and an elaborate plot blending realism and fantasy, the author offers the emotional resonance of complicated parent-child loyalties and the coming-of-age of adolescence, never condescending to her young readers. This book may be her readers’ first acquaintance with the story of someone like Jin Lo, who hid at age 8 and saw her family and a kindly neighbor murdered before her eyes by the invading Japanese in World War II. Among the vivid detailed settings of Meloy’s book are a sweltering uranium mine and a remote island where suspicious islanders are convinced they will be delivered cargo by any new arrival and name him John Frum.
– Jean Westmoore
The Carrion Birds by Urban Waite; William Morrow, 288 pages ($25.99)
A criminal who vows to go straight after that one last job is a tried and true idea, but Urban Waite makes the idea seem fresh as he adds the disintegrating of a family to his plot.
Akin to the brutal yet solid storytelling of the movie “The Wild Bunch” and Jim Thompson’s “The Getaway,” Waite delves into Western noir as he looks at destructive moral dilemmas.
More than 12 years ago, Ray Lamar left his home of Coronado, N.M., after his wife was killed and his toddler son left brain damaged in a car crash. Her death was retaliation against Ray by a drug cartel. All these years, Ray hasn’t seen his son, whom he left in the care of his aged father, nor his cousin, Tom, with whom he was raised like twins. In a misguided attempt to help Ray, Tom went after a suspected drug dealer; an incident that eventually cost Tom his job as the local sheriff and has “forever defined his life.”
Ray plans to do one last job for a crime boss so he can return home. But Ray has barely begun before everything goes horribly wrong.Set in a dying town where dried up oil wells and abandoned housing developments dot the landscape, “The Carrion Birds” moves at a brisk pace, with an unflinching brutality.
– By Oline H. Cogdill, Sun Sentinel