Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Christmas Hope: A Novel by Anne Perry

This is the first of the "Christmas stories" Anne Perry has written which I have read, though by the list inside the cover, she's been doing this a while. I enjoy her regular series about Monk and Hester, which present a gritty underbelly to Victorian London, as well as a wicked eye to the morals and mores of the time. This small novel, sent to me through the Library Thing early Reviewers program, was a little nugget of Victorian society, wrapped up with a Christmas bow.

Claudine Burroughs, who has grown to dislike both the Christmas season and her joyless marriage, finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time to witness the end of a fight at one of the Christmas parties. A young woman "of the street" is severely injured, and one of the party attendees is accused by three others of harming her. When the woman dies, it becomes a question of murder. It also becomes a question of justice, as Claudine unravels what actually happened that evening.

There are illusions to Hester Monk's clinic, where Claudine happens to volunteer. Bits I liked, bits that are similar to other bits I've read in Perry's novels. But all in all, a fine period piece.

Many thanks to Library Thing and the publishers for sending this to me. It is my final completed read of 2013.

Friday, December 27, 2013

How to Lead a Life of Crime by Kirsten Miller

I picked this up thinking it would be a break from some of the fantasy YA books I've been reading, and might be like a modern day version of Fagin, the Artful Dodger, and Oliver. It is, if you switch pickpocketing and petty thievery with corporate crime, mass killings, and economic disasters. You don't really ever hear any of the characters say, Please, Sir, can I have some more?" They'd probably end up dead if they did.

Very dark, but compelling psychological novel that gives family a whole new slant. Also very different, and much more compelling, than an earlier novel I'd read by this author.

Lots of food for thought, if you discount the crazies.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna

Getting a glimpse of Finland that doesn't involve murder, drugs, and detectives, but involves some true Finlanders, some mayhem, and a hare -- priceless.

Warm and fuzzy, the vignettes of this story are not (though the hare is). Charming, honest, direct, they are. Together they tell the story of Vatanen(what is his first name -- it's never told), a journalist, who while on assignment, comes across a baby hare who is injured (most probably by the car Vatanen is in, maybe even driving) and leaves his job, his somewhat unpleasant wife, and the life he knows, to trek around Finland with the hare. The characters he meets are so well drawn, I could picture how the scene would play out in a movie (thinking of the bulldozer driver here, after the forest fire, particularly). The work and situations he finds himself contain humor, and that dark slice of life that part of the world does so well.

I did find the narrative rather flat, as if a retelling, and wasn't sure if it was the translation into English or a style choice of the author, until the end.

Apparently Paasilinna is sort of a national treasure of Finland. I'd like to check out more of his books.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken (Vish Puri, #3) by Tarquin Hall

I'm just back from a quick trip to India, courtesy of Tarquin Hall. This is no small feat, as I've been given strict orders by my physician for the past 14 years, that I should no longer take trips to India because of a health condition I have. But Hall deftly flies me on the wings of his words, and the vast girth of Vish Puri back to the land I love.

Had I not already loved this series, I still would have picked up this book because of the title. Yum! Who can resist? (And there's a recipe for that chicken, and a few other delights, in the back of the book, as well as here.) Vish Puri is still is tubby, mustachioed self, sabotaging his scale so his beloved wife doesn't realize he's not very successful on his diet, and tracking down murderers (and a mustache thief as well.)

I always learn a little something extra in a Vish Puri novel, both about the culture, and sometimes history. This time, it was more about the partitioning of India, the more personal aspects, that came through. The things we do to each other in the name of religion and peace break my heart sometimes.

As to Vish Puri, he's tracking down the killer of the father of one of India's rising cricket stars. It takes him through many walks of life, as well as down memory lane, and even into Pakistan.

Best of all, there's book 4 in the series waiting for me to read!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Wisp of a Thing by Alex Bledsoe

Music, magic, broken hearts -- the thing country music is made of. In this case, though, it is to cope with one, that makes singer/songwriter Rob Quillen head to Cloud County. He was a contestant on a talent search TV show, who very publicly, very tragically, experienced the death of his sweetheart. He heads to mountains in search of a song he's heard of which will ease his heart, erase the pain. What he finds instead are the Tufa, a people who predate earliest settlers, and who may, or may not (must most likely may) have faerie blood in them, either diluted or full. As Rob begins his search for words written in stone, he encounters locals, many of whom are none too happy to have him in their town. He also attracts the attentions of a feral girl who prowls the area. At the same time, another visitor to the area has gone missing.

When I read the first book in this series of Bledsoe's, <i>The Hum and the Shiver</i>, I really liked it. I was out in search of the next book that my book club is reading, but saw this on the shelf of new arrivals, and grabbed it with glee. Bledsoe didn't disappoint. Nor did he make this a sequel, though some characters have cameos in this book from the last. Instead, it is another tale of the Tufas, and has made me a happy reader.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Boy Who Could See Demons: A Novel by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

How did I get through this whole book without realizing that Alex's last name was Broccoli?

I've come across children with different special abilities, but never one who saw demons, so the premise of this book interested me. There have been friends and family, who have deep troubles and debilitating mental illness, which, especially when talking to others, I refer to as so-and-so's demons. I was curious to see how this would play out.

Well written, captivating, heartbreaking, with a major twist that is similar to one I've encountered in a few other books and maybe a movie. This time, though, the resolution left me feeling edgy, because I wanted to know how the original story would play out (being careful hear, trying not to get into spoiler territory.) It was a perfectly acceptable ending, a good plot arc, but I was left wanting. Even so, I  highly recommend this book. It is a sensitive and illuminating look at mental illness, family love, and healing. And demons.

The One and Only Ivan by Kathrine Applegate

This title came to my notice via my friend Spedbug, who tumbled onto this at the urging of another friend. I am grateful to both.

This is a work of fiction, about a silver-back gorilla, living in a sideshow tourist trap, and the family he creates there. I remember when gorilla this was based on was rescued from the place he'd lived (Oregon maybe) back in the 90's. At the time, it struck me how awful it must have been for him to have lived something like 34 years never seeing another gorilla. I was only a few years older than Ivan at the time, rich in love, family, health, and friends. The thought of not having those elements in my life was so horrific I wept. But Ivan's story (the real one) got better, because he was moved to the Atlanta Zoo, and was the darling there until his death last year. When I heard about his passing, I felt as if a friend had gone out of my life.

I am overjoyed that the story of Ivan, though fictionalized, is captured in this book. For Iva, as portrayed in this book, is not only the one and only, but he is kind and wise.