Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Great Reckoning, by Louise Penny

In Louise Penny's 12th mystery, A Great Reckoning, Inspector Gamache has taken on the leadership of Montreal's police academy in an effort to root out the corruption that he knows is there. At the same time, he begins an investigation into a map that was found stuffed into the walls of the bistro in his little town of Three Pines. He brings four of the academy students together to help him solve the mystery of the map, and they also become deeply involved in his search for the root of the corruption at the academy.

Louise Penny is a master at creating fascinating characters and revealing their inner struggles. This book also highlights an important part of Canadian history when the map is revealed to be related to soldiers who fought in the First World War. The characters who live in Three Pines add both levity and depth to the story; they include Ruth, a crazy poet, and her pet duck Rosa; Myrna, the book store owner; Clara, an artist; Gabri and Olivier, the bistro owners. Inspector Gamache's wife, Reine-Marie, as well as his daughter and son-in-law continue to figure strongly in the plot. Although I've only read three of the books in the series, I am very fond of these characters and how they've developed from one book to the next. This is one of those series that I find myself compelled to go back and start from the beginning; I can't wait to start!

I received this book at an event sponsored by the Association of American Publishers at the 2016 BookExpo America convention, held at the McCormick Center in Chicago, Illinois.

Louise Penny. A Great Reckoning. New York: Minotaur Books, 2016. Advance Readers' Edition. 389 pages. ISBN 9781250022134.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Before the Fall, by Noah Hawley

In this riveting, suspenseful novel by Noah Hawley, artist Scott Burroughs and a four-year-old boy are the only survivors of a plane crash off the coast of Long Island. Scott manages to swim to shore with the boy, but then becomes the focus of a media storm that questions how he was the only adult survivor. Was the crash an accident, or was the plane's owner (and the boy's father) the target because of his high-profile position as the owner of a news corporation? Was Scott having an affair with the owner's wife? Was someone after the vast fortune that the boy is set to inherit?

Many players enter the scene, trying to find the answers to these questions. The FBI, the NTSB, the media, and Scott himself are all trying to find out what happened. The novel explores each of the plane's passengers in turn, allowing the reader to become familiar with each character on the plane, and one by one eliminates them from consideration as a suspect or target. The author keeps us guessing until the end, when the culprit is revealed with a surprisingly banal motive. The writing is very good, with excellent character development and thoughtful explorations of how the media can create a story out of nothing.

I received this book at the 2016 BookExpo America convention, held at the McCormick Center in Chicago, IL.

Noah Hawley. Before the Fall. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016. Advance Reading Copy/Uncorrected Proof. 390 pages. ISBN 9781455561780.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Catching up, July 2016

I've gotten a bit behind in my book reviews, so I'm just going to mention each book briefly. I wish I had more time to discuss them; there were a lot of good reads in this batch!

Aline Ohanesian. Orhan's Inheritance. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2015. 340 pages. ISBN 9781616203740. Advance reading copy.

I loved this book about a middle aged man who learns that his grandfather left his home to an Armenian woman and then decides that he has to track her down to learn her story.

Celeste Ng. Everything I Never Told You. New York: Penguin Books, 2014. 297 pages. ISBN 9780143127550.

This is an excellent debut novel about a young girl who never let herself be known by the people closest to her. Includes an interview with the author.

Sunil Yapa. Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2016. 306 pages. ISBN 978031638653. Advance reading copy/uncorrected proof.

This is about a bunch of characters who come together during the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle. I thought I would like this book more than I did, as I'd read a number of good reviews. Still worth reading.

Marie-Helene Bertino. 2 a.m. at the Cat's Pajamas. New York: Crown Publishers, 2014. 261 pages. ISBN 9780804140232. Advance readers' edition.

A little girl spends a night getting in and out of trouble, along with a big cast of characters including one of her school teachers. I wanted to like this book, but it just wasn't happening for me.

Colm Toibin. Nora Webster. New York: Scribner, 2014. 373 pages. ISBN 9781439170939.

This was a book club selection, and stars a minor character from another one of our book club books, Brooklyn. I had the same reaction to Nora Webster as I had to Brooklyn. The book seemed to be a reporting of the main character's activities; just a recounting of one thing after another. There is no narrative arc, and little build up of drama or tension. I found it hard to care about the characters, almost none of whom were likable. Not one of my favorites!

Lauren Groff. Fates and Furies. New York: Riverhead Books, 2015. 390 pages. ISBN 9781594634475.

This book reveals how a love story and marriage evolve over the decades, and how two people can still have so much that they don't share with each other even after many years together. Well written, but a little uneven. Also includes a number of really unlikable characters.

Lawrence Douglas. The Vices. New York: Other Press, 2011. 343 pages. ISBN 9781590514153.

This is the story of a man who becomes obsessed with his best friend's family. He digs up information about their history (much of which they made up). Oddly enough, I had read this book a few years ago but neglected to give the book away. When I picked it up last month to read I kept thinking that it seemed familiar, but it took a while for me to realize that I had actually already read it. I liked this book, although I found myself frustrated with the narrator and the poor choices he was making!

Elinor Lipman. The Family Man. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2009. 305 pages. ISBN 9780618644667.

I loved this funny book about a retired lawyer whose estranged ex-wife and step-daughter come crashing back into his life.

Janwillem van de Wetering. Outsider in Amsterdam. New York: Soho Crime. 265 pages. ISBN 9781616953003.

Originally published in 1975, this book is part of the Soho Crime Passport to Crime series. Interestingly dated, and imperfectly translated, this was nevertheless an enjoyable detective story.

I got this book at a Soho Press special event at the 2016 ALA Annual Conference in Orlando.

David Downing. Jack of Spies. New York: Soho Crime, 2014. 338 pages. ISBN 978161952686. Advance uncopyedited edition.

Another Soho Crime book! I liked this spy thriller set in 1913, on the eve of the First World War.

Peter Robinson. In the Dark Places. New York: William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2015. 326 pages. ISBN 9780062393081. Advance reader's edition.

Drug deals gone awry, people who've gone missing. This book is an especially well-written mystery and thriller. Lots of interesting characters, many of whom it's easy to root for.

Karin Slaughter. Pretty Girls. New York: William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2015. 388 pages. ISBN 9780062429056. Advance reader's edition.

When Claire finds what appear to be snuff films on her recently-deceased husband's computer, she begins to investigate what he was into. This is a riveting suspense mystery that kept me glued to the pages.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Last Brother, by Nathacha Appanah

The Last Brother is by far the best novel that I've read so far this year. It tells the story of Raj, a young Mauritian boy, and David, a Jewish boy from Prague who's being detained in the Beau-Bassin prison on Mauritius during the Second World War. Fleeing Europe along with 1,500 other Jews on the Atlantic, 10-year old David was turned away from Palestine because he didn't have the appropriate immigration papers, and sent to Mauritius, then a British Colony, where he was imprisoned.

Raj meets David at the prison when he delivers his father's lunch. A guard at the prison, Raj's father is demeaned at work, taking out his anger against Raj and his mother at night. Raj is lonely, having lost both of his brothers in a flash flood, and he becomes attached to David, overcoming cultural and language barriers. After a cyclone causes significant damage to the island, David escapes the prison and comes home with Raj. After hiding David there for a few days, Raj becomes afraid that his father will find out and convinces David to run away with him. They walk for three days, getting lost in the jungle and hiding from prison guards. David gets sick and on the third day dies from his illness, only hours before they are found by the guards (this is not a spoiler; we learn early on that David dies young). The novel is narrated by an elderly Raj, who only learned the true facts of what happened on Mauritius many years later, when he reads a newspaper article about Jews who returned to visit the Jewish cemetery where David and others were buried.

Although very short, this novel touches on many themes: family love, parental love, abusive fathers, the friendship of young companions, the tragedy of Jewish exiles during the Second World War, and more. The writing is wonderful, and the translation is superb. Everything rang true. Author Nathacha Appanah is incredibly talented. According to the author's biographical information on the back cover, she is "a French-Mauritian of Indian origin" and worked as a journalist before becoming a novelist. This is her fourth novel, and was published in The Lannan Translation Series, which funds "the translation and publication of exceptional literary works," according to the series page near the end of the book. Anyone who enjoys historical or literary fiction would love this book.

Nathacha Appanah. The Last Brother. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Graywolf Press, 2011. 164 pages. ISBN 9781555975753. Uncorrected Proof.