Novel Ideas - The Missourian: Features People

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Posted: Friday, March 18, 2011 3:29 pm

Place "Wingshooters" at the top of your must-read list. But be warned - plan nothing else for the day, this is a read-it-in-one-sitting-book.

Author Nina Revoyr has penned a sensitive coming-of-age story told by Mickey, a woman reminiscing about the special bond she had with her grandfather, Charlie LeBeau, a complicated, but loving force in her life.

Mickey goes to live with her grandparents in central Wisconsin when her parents abandon her. Deerhorn, Wis., in the 1970s, is a community of "blue-collar sensibilities," steeped in prejudice - not the place for Mickey, who doesn't fit the mold - 100 percent American.

Mickey had previously lived in Japan, but when her Japanese mother takes off, her father dumps his daughter at his parents' house in Deerhorn, saying he'll be back as soon as he finds his wife. These empty promises break Mickey's heart, and enrage Charlie, who'd do anything for his granddaughter, but has no patience with his son.

Beautifully crafted, Revoyr builds tension at a leisurely pace. Our sympathy grows for Mickey, a third-grader bullied by all in a redneck town where she's ostracized.

Mickey's grandfather is a multidimensional, flawed character. Though he adores Mickey, Charlie is a "bigot," and when an African-American couple moves to Deerhorn he does nothing to quell ill feelings that fester in the group of men he hangs around town with, drinking coffee and Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Especially scary is his friend Earl, the owner of the local gun shop and the father of a boy who's Mickey's age, a quiet child who harbors family secrets. More is revealed as Earl's evil intensifies.

"Wingshooters" is written in a clear, innocent voice, yet the book boils with small town hatred and misunderstanding. It's a virtual treasure, and available in both paperback and hardcover.

***

She's tough as nails, a ruthless tracker who strikes fear in the hearts of those who cross her, intelligent and cunning - yet pursued by her past, haunted by the ghost of a man who stole her youth, torturing her as he trains her to be a killer.

In "The Informationist," you'll meet Vanessa "Michael" Munroe, a character you'll not soon forget. This thriller debut by Taylor Sevens is the first of three books to feature this fascinating, globetrotter with an appetite for sex and a talent for escaping every scrape she finds herself in.

She's known as Munroe, Mickey and Nessa, born in Africa to missionary parents - turned over to an American school where she goes adrift, Munroe ends up working for Francisco Beyard, a handsome rake who makes illegal pickups and deliveries in Africa. She's only 14 at the time, and unbeknownst to Francisco, is raped and tortured by a member of his crew.

Monroe finally takes matters in her own hands, and escapes her bondage to become the informationist. Her international background and knowledge of languages enable her to gather information for big money from higher ups in a plethora of countries.

Her newest assignment takes her back to Africa after a Texas oil magnate hires her to find his missing stepdaughter who was last seen on the continent. There's one hitch - the Texan insists she take along an unwelcome sidekick for protection, as if Munroe needed it.

There's plenty of action and a bit of confusion in a plot that can be hard to follow without an atlas by your side. But don't get too mired down in the jungle of details, and you'll be in for a wild ride across foreign borders with plenty of surprises along the way.

***

Anyone who has ever fallen ill in a foreign country knows how scary that can be. It's hard to wade through medical jargon when we're conversing in our own language, but in a foreign country, we can feel incredibly adrift, especially when the suspected diagnosis is breast cancer.

In "The Foremost Good Fortune," Susan Conley writes with admirable courage about the two years she lived in Beijing with her husband and two small sons after a job opportunity too good to pass up takes the Conleys to China.

Living in a towering apartment complex in Beijing is a far different life for the Conleys than what they'd been used to in Maine. But with verve and pluck, Susan plods forward, enrolling the couple's young sons in school, trying to make friends and experiencing China as the country prepares for the Olympics.

Conley is soon adrift in another land foreign to her when she discovers several suspect lumps. A doctor in China tells her not to be concerned, but Conley doesn't settle - she and her family travel to the United States only to hear the dreaded diagnosis.

Despite her difficulties, Conley and her family return to China to fulfill their commitment. There, Conley tries to make peace with her mortality and come to grips with her new reality.

This touching memoir is a study in fortitude and acceptance, an inspiring read with much to say.

/features_people