Warm up with some hot trouble in hot locales
I'm dressed warmly, in a heated building, and I'm cold. I'm sure it has nothing to do with the indoor temperature but more to do with my impatience with the frozen tundra in which we live. Thundersnow? An inch of ice on my windshield?
I long to pack up and fly south, somewhere warm that doesn't have even the slightest threat of freezing rain. Some place where the healing sunshine casts a happy yellow glow on the very air I breathe. I can smell the gardenias now.
Alas, this tropical delight is not in my immediate forecast. So to feel a little better about my current environment, I picked out a few books with sunny locales to cheer us up this week. If you're looking for something set in the tropics, "Phoenix Island" by John Dixon is for you. This one had an interesting premise: An orphaned boy in constant trouble with the law gets sent to boot camp to change his ways. But something about the first few pages grabbed my attention.
Carl Freeman has been passed from one foster home to another, always moving because he starts fights. But it's not that simple. He only fights when he sees injustice toward the vulnerable. Bullies are his main target. He may not even know the poor kid who's getting picked on by the bully, but his sense of fairness and protection gears up and it's almost as if he can't help himself.
Finally a judge tells him that it's the end of the line: Go to the Phoenix Island boot camp or spend a long time in prison. It seems straightforward enough. But his assumptions all change once he arrives. The drill sergeants are cruel and abusive. The other kids are a mixed bag of bullies and weak smart alecks.
Carl wants to play along and follow orders, but it becomes apparent that there is more going on in this rehab facility than helping wayward kids. Then he finds a secret journal, hidden by a former attendee that makes unbelievable accusations about the main goal of the camp. Are kids being trained to kill for the government?
When I finished the novel — and it was gripping all the way through to the end — I noticed that this book was the inspiration for the new CBS television show "Intelligence" starring Josh Holloway. So if you're a fan, that might be another incentive for picking this one up.
Another novel I selected this week is in a sunny locale. "Going Dark" by Edgar Award winner James W. Hall takes place in the Florida Everglades. This title is actually one in a series, but it's not necessary to read them in order.
This was the first Hall book I've read, and I enjoyed the colorful locale and quirky characters enough to go back and read some of the others. The lead character is Thorn, a bit of a loner who lives in a secluded spot in Key Largo. He uses solar and wind power to run his electricity and collects rainwater in a cistern. He detests the commercialization that has come to Florida and is against any future development in the area.
Enter a somewhat radical organization: the Earth Liberation Front, a group of eco-terrorists that have been responsible for nearly a hundred million dollars in damage to commercialization, mostly due to arson.
The Miami sect of E.L.F. has decided to take action against Turkey Point, the nuclear power plant in southern Florida. Thorn's son Flynn Moss gets involved in the group, only to have to call for help when he discovers that some of the activists have something more sinister in mind.
Throw into the mix a researcher being eaten by a crocodile, a psychopath that has a way with electricity, a deadly python in the water and enough activists, scientists and investigators to cause some real trouble, and you have a thriller full of heat and tension. Hall is a master at the genre.
Read some books set in more reasonable climates this month, and you'll be sure to warm up a bit.
Kelly Strom is the collection manager at the Champaign Public Library. She orders books, magazines, newspapers, audiobooks and CDs.