Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Summer of Dead Toys, by Antonio Hill (Publish release date June 19, 2013)

Barcelona is climatically on the other end of the spectrum from the settings of the Nordic Noir I've been reading, but Antonio Hill packed a similar wallop of characters, mystery, into the pages of The Summer of Dead Toys, plus added the promise of a new series/Inspector to check out.

Hector Salgado, an Argentinian, now a inspector in Barcelona but now on probation after an episode violence in one of his cases, is asked to unofficially look into the apparently accidental death of a well-to-do young man. But Salgado discovers the case not to be as clear-cut as assumed. His journey to discovery takes him through some of the shadier parts of Barcelona life, the areas tourists will probably never see. The story unfolds with craft, skill, and intelligence. The descriptions of Barcelona painted the city in my mind's eye. The book kept me interested, with two main threads of action, realistic characters, and enough tension to make me nibble a fingernail or two. And, for those who like a little noir/darkness in their reading, there's enough of that seamy underbelly exposed to satisfy.

For me, the book is a clue in itself, that this is a series to keep in mind for future reading. There are enough interesting interactions between characters that will probably be recurring, enough realism, enough trueness in the relationships. Salgado, himself, seems to be that intelligent, flawed central character, the kind of which I like to follow in stories. The book, itself, is translated, but interestingly enough, the author is the actual translator, as that's what he does when he's not writing mystery/detective novels. While there is a little roughness in the telling of the tale, I think that will smooth out with time and more writing.

Many thanks to Read It Forward for forwarding this on to me. I will pass it along, now, knowing I'm passing on a good book.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Here Comes Mrs. Kugelman by Minka Pradelski (Release date July 9)

I'm a big believer in the the value of stories. I treasure the ones I learned from elders in my family, true or not. For the thing about stories is that the truth can slip as time and memory blur the edges of a tale. But a gifted storyteller is a treasure for the ability to craft images, characters, and situations for their audience.

In this novel, the storyteller is Mrs. Kugelman. She enters the world of the narrator, a young woman named Tsippy Silberberg, in a rather haphazard way. Tsippy, who has some rather peculiar quirks of her own with her eating habits, is in Tel Aviv to pick up an inheritance left to her by her father's sister. Bella Kugelman enters Tsippy's life with a knock on the door, and a story to tell. Through her words, the inhabitants of Bedzin, a small, predominantly Jewish, Polish village on the border with Germany, come to life again. She tells of day to day life, before the war, before the invasion, before the Holocaust. It's a time when children played pranks in school (or were even still in school, since those were closed almost immediately when things got bad), when people went to the rebbe for blessings before new ventures, when families sent their cholent to the baker on Friday, so it could cook in the oven all day on the Sabbath, and they would not be working to do so. Mrs K's tales take the reader right up through the start of the end of a way of life, painting a vivid picture of what was lost, both in lives and lifestyle.

The stories charmed me, especially since some of my own family probably lived a similar life. The bits in between didn't carry the same type of interest for me, and oddly enough, either did the two main characters.  The subplot of the relationship of Mrs Kugelman's stories to Tsippy's own life was a nice touch, but lacked the clarity of the mini-plots about the villagers of Bedzin. Indeed, just as kugel is often a side dish to a holiday table, Mrs Kugelman was more of a side character to the people she talked about.

I'm told the author is both a sociologist and documentary filmmaker and that her own parents were Holocaust survivors. Her interest in these survivors, their families, and the impact of horrors that occurred in that awful time, helped round this book out in a realistic way. This is her first novel. I look forward to reading more of her works in the future.

Thank you to LibraryThing Early Reviewers and to the publisher for sending me this copy of the book.