West of the Moon by Margi Preus; Amulet Books, 288 pages ($16.95) Ages 10 to 14.
This enchanting mix of folktale and fiction was inspired by a line in a diary kept by the author’s great-great-grandmother as she left Norway for America. Preus deftly weaves fairy tale elements into a gripping tale of historical fiction of a hardscrabble life in the Norwegian mountains and the great migration to America. Astri and Greta are sisters whose father has gone in search of a better life in America, leaving them in the care of a greedy aunt and uncle who sell Astri to a nasty goatherd as a slave in his filthy hut. She sleeps with a knife under her pillow, planning for the day she can rescue both her sister and the mute girl the goatherd keeps locked in his storehouse. Astri does what she must to survive, wondering all the while if she has sold her soul to darkness, as she steals, even commits violence in her quest to save her sister and herself. Preus has worked magic here; the terror in the shadows might be a troll, or it might be something else more prosaic but equally terrifying. There’s even a promise of a first-born son to a witch, a promise Preus deftly transforms in a delightful way. The author won Newbery Honors for “Heart of a Samurai” and also wrote “Shadow on the Mountain.”
– Jean Westmoore
Doing Harm by Kelly Parsons; St. Martin’s Press, 368 pages ($25.99)
Kelly Parsons’ highly entertaining debut delves deep into the ethics and competitiveness of the medical profession while exploring why doctors choose their careers.
“Doing Harm” starts strong and never loses its momentum throughout the energetic plot infused with an intriguing look at modern medicine without being overwhelmed by the intricacies of the profession.
Steve Mitchell, the chief surgical resident at a top Boston teaching hospital, believes that he is on the right track with his career and personal life.
Yes, he’s a bit arrogant about his skills but that serves him well in the competitive medical profession and with his egotistical colleagues. He also loves his wife and is excited that they are expecting their third child.
But then Steve is blamed when a patient under his care dies. Trying to figure out what he did wrong, he stumbles on the chilling realization that a murderer is targeting patients hospitalized for routine surgery.
Parsons keeps the action chillingly realistic while also showing the different personalities who choose the medical field.
Each character – from the brilliant medical student to the former gang member – feels authentic. Parsons, a urologist who works in San Diego, doesn’t break new ground in “Doing Harm” and resorts to a couple of twists that don’t ring true.
Still, Parsons’ skillful plotting and knack for characters makes “Doing Harm” a gripping medical thriller.
– Oline H. Cogdill, South Florida Sun Sentinel