The Boy in the Snow

M.J. McGrath’s The Boy in the Snow combines the murder of a child with a lot that is wrong with Alaskan culture. The isolation may be good for a someone wanting quiet but its also the perfect hiding place to traffic women to satisfy the needs of those recluses.

I found the story interesting but the character Edie Kiglatuk an unlikely crime solver. She is a half-Inuit from the remoteness of northern Canada who is in Anchorage only to help support her ex in his attempt to complete the famous Iditarod race across Alaska. She uses many instincts that a traditional crime solver wouldn’t, like her ability to navigate in remote, snowy areas on foot and hide her path.

Overall, I can’t say that this was a particularly great book and its been several weeks now since I read it so I’m foggy on why I felt that way. I read it quickly and I liked that she dealt with things that were wrong with Alaskan society, like trafficing woman, illegal adoptions, political corruptness, while still showing the beauty of the land. Maybe it was a little over the top for me. Edie is from a small village and comes to the big city and solves a huge crime just by using a lot of her intuition. I can’t really put my finger on what my problem with this book is, but it just felt a little unreal. In my opinion, one of the most important aspects of crime novels is that they have to be believable. Something about this novel felt forced.

Read November 2014

Death in August

In Death in August, Marco Vichi’s Inspector Bordelli has seen more than he’d like of petty crime after Italy began its recovery after World War II, but it doesn’t leave him jaded and cynical. Instead he respects that with the horrible economy of post-war Italy, people need to survive and sometimes that means breaking the laws. Inspector Bordelli, against direct orders, fights for the little guy, even if the little guy is caught breaking and entering occasionally.

When a wealthy signora dies under suspicious circumstances, Ins. Bordelli has to try to find answers with the city sweltering and empty. Like most crime novels, the Inspector stews on the details of the crime for lengthy periods trying to put the pieces together, especially since his main suspects were supposedly at the beach during the time of the murder.

Bordelli is a reluctant bachelor wishing that he had someone to share his life. Instead of a wife, he surrounds himself with friends that he meets in his line of work. His friendships sustain him and his dinner parties give him and his friends a platform to reminisce about their lives, war, loves, and maintain a connection that make him content.

This was a quick crime read. Entertaining and enjoyable to read.

Read December 2014

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn tells the story of Francie Nolan, born at the turn of the 20th century into a life of poverty. With a mother who works hard to support the family and a fun alcoholic dad who cannot be relied on for steady work, Francie and her younger brother Neeley have to help out by selling odd scraps along with the other poor children. Francie is a dreamer and her mother, with whom she has a mixed relationship, is not. But Katie learned from her own mother that the way to a better life is through education. So Katie gets ahold of a Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare to teach her children to read and hopes that this will help them succeed more in life. This beginning gives Francie something she needs and doesn’t realize that she has her mother to thank for this. It gives her an escape from the poverty by getting books from the local library, she’s able to read and go to other worlds.

While her mother feeds her love of education by reading nightly, when Francie wants to transfer to another school, where perhaps she won’t be treated like a leper of the public school system, her mother does nothing to help. Johnny steps into his parenting role and gets Francie into the school by lying about their address. Francie takes on the additional responsibility of having to walk back and forth to school twice a day, since her mother refuses to provide her a sack lunch.

The mother-daughter relationship is full of turmoil, with Katie admitting to the reader that she prefers Neeley over Francie. Francie was the harder baby to rear, but Katie never notices or acknowledges that as the children grow, she relies on Francie unfairly while giving extras to Neeley. Francie is the one to work, while Neeley goes to high school because Katie knows that Francie will get educated somehow, while Neeley is a slacker. While understandable, it reeks of favoritism and unfairness.

Smith’s characters are rich with contradiction and love for each other. She deals with life’s harshness but never lets the characters give up hope that something will get better. The characters are like the tree that grows in Brooklyn from the title, popping up in little cracks in the sidewalk, wanting life no matter the cost and environment. And the environment that Smith describes is harsh and unforgiving, but Francie will survive.

This was a fantastic book to read and to discuss in book club. I’m not giving the book justice by this documentation and may come back when I’m less tired to add more. This book is so rich in topics to discuss: poverty, sexism, racism, alcoholism, and more isms. Not only does this book capture a time period and place, it captures so much that is true about human nature and relationships.

Beautifully moving story.

Read November 2014

A Cool Breeze on the Underground

Don Winslow’s A Cool Breeze on the Underground was a fun book to read. Neal Carey is a graduate student who works for a RI bank and fixes the wealthy clients’ problems. When a vice-presidential hopeful’s daughter runs away, Neal is brought it to find her, clean her up, and bring her back in time for the Democratic convention.

Neal heads to London, Allie’s last known whereabouts, to search the city for her. The charm of this novel is not just in the mystery that Neal is trying to solve, but how he got into this business in the first place. Neal’s upbringing was less than ideal and Joe Graham, who works for the bank, helped raise him into the cunning and great fixer that he is. The flashbacks show how Joe trained Neal in the art of detection, in creative and unorthodox ways. Neal uses his training to track down Allie and trap her all the while battling with the ethics of returning a runaway to the family she ran from.

This was a quick, fun read. Neal’s interactions with those around him are part of what makes this book a good read. He usually says what people want to say, versus what they should, and yet manages to stay in almost everyone’s good charms. He’s a fun character and gets himself into and out of very unusual circumstances.

Read November 2014.

Awakening

S.J. Bolton’s novel Awakening creeped me out. There are a lot of snakes in this book, venomous and not, and this novel should not be read by anyone who is terrified of snakes. With that said, I’ve never been particularly bothered by snakes and yet while reading this novel I saw snakes everywhere!! In the rain drops that moved the grass on the side of the road. In the roots that gnarled their way across my hiking trail. And I live in an area that doesn’t have many snakes, and yet I was freaked out.

So, with that disclaimer, this book was fantastic! Our heroine, Clara, was disfigured as a child and now tries to limit her experience with fellow humans and focuses her energy on her wild animals that she treats at the veterinary clinic. Unfortunately, her quiet village is being terrorized by venomous snakes and her neighbors seek her out for her reptile knowledge. When a non-indigenous, very deadly snake turns up in a neighbor’s home, Clara works with Matt, the local detective, and Sean North, a TV star who works with wild animals, to try to determine how these wild snakes are getting into homes and killing people.

Bolton include many elements into this mystery. Clara is also psychological mess allowing her disfigurement rule her life. Clara in her quest to understand how the victims are tied together, also uncovers a religious cult that many neighbors were part of over 50 years ago. As she tries to tie the past and present together, she becomes a target.

This was a great, scary crime novel!

Read November 2014.

Her Fearful Symmetry

Audrey Niffenegger tells the story of beautiful twins and how twin-ness can consume them. 20 years ago, Elspeth and Edie parted, never to be together agin, when Edie left her twin and England under strange circumstances that no one quite understood. Edie and her husband have twin daughters who are beautiful mirror images of each other, outside and inside. Julia is the strong willed twin and Valentina is more timid and sickly, and both are currently stagnating in their parents house.

When Elspeth receives a terminal diagnosis, she writes her will so her nieces will inherit everything with a caveat being that the girls must live in Elspeth’s apartment for a year and their parents are barred from entering the apartment.

Niffenegger creates a gothic novel with Julia and Velentina living a warped life, totally codependent on each other and their twin-ness. Once they move into Elspeth’s apartment, right next to the famous Highgate Cemetery, Niffenegger begins to show the differences between the 2 girls. Their symmetry and closeness only allows for one personality to thrive but there are 2 of them to contend with.

To add more strangeness to the story, Elspeth, who passed away early on, begins a second life trapped within her apartment walls. While the twins and Elspeth get to know each other, the story about why the mom and aunt are estranged remains a secret.

This ghost story delves into the supernatural and creates a reality that many hope exists, life after death. Although I cannot imagine anyone hoping that when they die they get trapped in their home to watch the next generation of twins living out a replica of their life. This is a strange, compelling story that I had a hard time putting down. And unlike many horror books that lose their audience with the final horrific reveal, in Her Fearful Symmetry, Niffenegger keeps the reader engaged and the story plausible until the end. Creepy as the end is, I still bought it and all the characterization throughout the novel lead the characters to making the choices they made and created the ending.

Great read! Read October 2014.

Fly Away Home

I’ve been mostly drawn to horror books lately. Maybe its the weather and the season. But this is the second Jennifer Weiner book I’ve read in the last two months, which must mean something. I think there’s something very personal and inviting in her novels, and Fly Away Home is no exception.

In this novel, the Woodruff family’s three women take turns telling their stories. The matriarch, Sylvie, has been the perfect politician’s wife for the past couple of decades. Her oldest daughter, Diana, has worked her whole life to be the perfect daughter and now is a successful doctor who is married with a son. Lizzie, the youngest, who has not fared as well and comes up short in the perfection department, has recently been released from rehab. With all the perfection in the family working hard for Senator Richard Woodruff, there’s not a lot of time for real emotion and love to be expressed.

It isn’t until Richard’s extramarital affair makes the news, that the perfect family has to struggle with the damage that perfection has caused. Finally free from the restrictions of her life, Sylvie hides at her Connecticut beach house and rediscovers parts of her that have been hidden behind the perfect facade. Diana, who is also having an extramarital affair, realizes that the appearance of a perfect marriage is far from her reality. She played it safe and is now seeking the passion that she missed out on. Lizzie is struggling with her black-sheet stigma and is trying to create a life for herself where she doesn’t have to hide behind her drugs. All three are seeking their true selves and once they start they can begin mending the family bonds that haven’t existed and all have missed.

Again, Weiner’s ability to capture her characters emotions and translate them to paper enchants me. There’s a lot of psychological messes that the characters struggle through so they can begin their lives again. This was an easy book to like and to read. I feel like I really know the characters when I finished. To me, thats a great way to end a book.

Read October 2014.