Friday, January 31, 2014

The Purity of Vengeance - Jussi Adler-Olsen

I am an enthusiastic fan of Adler-Olsen's Department Q novels, so when this one didn't quite grab me like they usually do I chalked it up to some sort of reading ennui.

I sat up past my usual bedtime last night to finish it. I was eager to see how all the pieces of the latest cold case shook out, and also keen to find out the fate of some of the players in the story, but as the clock ticked on I realized that the real reason I was staying up late was that I didn't want to carry this one on into another day.

Yes, I was finally caught up in the whodunit/whoisdoing it thing, but honestly? Maybe it's a Danish thing or something, but I grew very weary of the endless references to people's bowels churning, and clogged toilets, and such. While murder and mayhem in a novel don't phase me much, I suppose I'm a prude when it comes to bodily functions. There is a reason there are doors on bathrooms, people.

Apart from that recurring theme keeping me at arm's distance, it was the first of Adler-Olsen's Department Q novels in which both the cold case and the current day machinations didn't hold me in equal thrall. I found myself bored with what was going on in the current day investigation, and for the most part, in the day to day lives of Mørck, Rose, and Assad outside the case itself.

This wasn't a godawful book. Had it been, I would not have finished it, and you'd know about it, but it just didn't measure up to the earlier books in the series.

Monday, January 20, 2014

First Fail of the Year

Careful readers know that I had intended to read Mary Poppins after seeing the very, very good Saving Mr. Banks at the local cinema. I was embarrassed to admit I'd not ever read it, but felt much better when I discovered on our way back to our car after the credits rolled that my husband had never even seen Mary Poppins, the movie. 

I knew I didn't have a copy at the shop. I added it to our next incoming order so I would have something light and happy to look forward to after reading a couple of novels that were exquisitely good, but which had done a number on my heart.

Sad to say, my copy of P.L. Travers' childhood favorite didn't make it to the shop, thanks to an understandable albeit infuriating bit of human error.  (Not mine, of course. I am perfect.)

I had to find something on the shelves, then, to break the dark mood of my home library, so picked a novel that seemed to offer lighter fare. It's a novel about Gold Star Mothers traveling to Europe on the government's dime in order to visit their son's graves there. Everything I read about it sounded like a story with heart and soul, but one that would leave me refreshed.  And, more importantly, one I might be able to handsell more easily to some of my "kinder, gentler" customers who have begun to fear that I have a number of screws loose owing to the books that bear my STAFF PICK stickers.

I'm not going to name the book. I'm not going to tell you who the author is. If you care, you'll be able to figure out. You may have read it, and loved it, but I just had to quit reading it for one of those reasons I have: an anachronism. I know, I know. Sue me, but that kind of thing bugs the tar out of me, as does a writer who doesn't trust me enough to understand how sad or unfortunate something is, so they create a scene that spells it out with a 2 x 4 for me.

Here's what this author did. She/he set up a group of women, just after WW1, strangers who would meet to travel to Europe together, sharing the common bond of having lost a child to war. It turns out that one of the women, an older African-American woman whose son was killed, is put in the wrong group of travelers because her name is so similar to a white woman who should have been assigned instead. In a beautifully subtle scene, we first meet her when she's standing just outside a waiting area, and is encouraged by another member of the party to enter the room. There is some understandable resistance from the African-American woman -- understandable because this was Jim Crow America, when neither equality nor equal access was the law of the land  or the custom of the times.

Not much farther along, though, the error is discovered, and the African-American is asked to come to the office of the person responsible for this undertaking, and is told that there was a mix-up: she should be with another group of Gold Star mothers waiting in Harlem... and that there is a woman there who should be with the group here.

And then the African-American woman gets up in this guy's face and says she knows why:  SEGREGATION.

This is where the writer lost this reader.  There is no way that an African-American woman, described as a grandmotherly type, at this time in history, would have acted this way, or spoken this way -- as much as we might support what she said and how she said it.

Just. Would. Not. Happen.

The only thing I can think is that the author wasn't sure that I was understanding what was going on.

She/he was mistaken.

On to the next book.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Kept - James Scott

Early on in my reading of James Scott's The Kept, I tweeted words to this effect:  I need a hug. 

By the time I finished reading it last night, what I really needed was CPR. And if you know me at all, you can just stop reading this review now and go get this book.

For those who need a bit more, fine. Here 'tis.

Just before the turn of the last century, midwife Elspeth Howell returns, on foot and in the cold and snow and ice, after spending months away, to the isolated upstate New York farm she and her husband Jorah share with their five children. As she passes landmarks that suggest she's getting nearer and nearer..."the fear that had been tugging at her identified itself: It was nothing. No smell of a winter fire; no whoops from the boys rounding up the sheep or herding the cows; no welcoming light."

Indeed, she discovers a horrifying sight: her husband and four of her five children have been murdered, and as she's taking that in she herself is shot --by the sole surviving child, 12 year old Caleb,who, from his hiding place, believed her to be the killers come back to finish their work.

Caleb tends to her wounds, and after her grueling recovery period he and Elspeth take off on a quest to find the killers of their family in order to take their revenge, a journey that leads them to the God-forsaken town in which Caleb was born.

That's the set-up. I cannot do the story justice by telling more, and I am annoyed by reviewers who feel compelled to do so.  I am always annoyed by reviews that reveal too much of what an author has left for each reader to uncover for themselves, by the way, and I will never do that here. 

And mark me well -- James Scott has a discovery for you on nearly every page, whether it's a plot twist or a glimpse deeper into the life and soul of Elspeth, or the heartbreaking reminders that Caleb is but a child, so subtly shaded that I found myself savoring each word of them, and that he bears the weight of a whole lot more than the task of avenging his family's massacre.

This is one of those books that makes me nuts because I now have to figure out a way to convey to my customers for whom I know it would be treasure that they need to read it. They trusted me when I told them to read Hannah Kent's Burial Rites, though, and that is precisely the group of readers who will understand that I would never recommend so highly a book that I know will take them back into the blackest corners of human experience unless there was, ultimately, something there that shook my soul.

That said, and my very high recommendation given,  I will confess that I am very, very glad that the next book in my queue is P.L. Travers' Mary Poppins.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

This Dark Road to Mercy - Wiley Cash

After I've become a big fan of a writer after reading their debut novel, I am always equally excited and nervous about reading their second effort. More times than I wish, I've had the thought that more writers should follow the example of Harper Lee, recognizing that what it was they had to say got said, and  no matter how many more words they write, they won't say it any better than they did with their first book.

I'm glad Wiley Cash didn't go the Lee route, else I'd have missed this chance to get excited all over again by his deceptively simple plotting and beautifully written characters. 

This Dark Road to Mercy is not the near-gothic that his (brilliant) A Land More Kind Than Home was. It's the story of a man who kidnaps his own daughters, and the race two very different sort of men undertake to find them -- for very different reasons. 

But that's just the scaffolding around the real story: that of a flawed but loving father and his quest to win the hearts of his long-ago abandoned daughters. 

Beautiful, and subtle, and one I can recommend without reservation. 

Release Date: February 2014
William Morrow

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

I'm back.

Life got complicated. Reading screeched to a halt. New year, fresh start. 

I finished Jussi Adler-Olsen's third Department Q mystery, A Conspiracy of Faith, this morning.  I liked it very much, but due to my own start-stop-start again reading (since November 5, for Pete's sake) the pacing was off. And yes, that is down to my shortcomings as a reader, and not any deficit on Adler-Olsen's part. 

On the other hand, usually when I am in a reading slump I don't even bother to finish what I'm reading, so that should tell you something, I think. 

On with the New (Year and book)!