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Ill-Gotten Gains

Ill-Gotten Gains

posted by:
November 2, 2012 - 7:03am

 

Live by NightPhantomFor best-selling authors like Jo Nesbo and Dennis Lehane, even if the adage “crime doesn’t pay” is true, writing about it most certainly does. Nesbo offers up Phantom, the ninth book in his police detective series, while Lehane continues his Boston-based Coughlin family saga with Live by Night. Joe is the baby boy of the Coughlin brothers, introduced to us in The Given Day. All grown up and despite coming from a line of Boston Irish policemen, Joe chooses the gangster life of the Prohibition-era 1920s. Moving between rival mobs with bloody street wars and after a stint in Boston’s infamous Charlestown prison, Joe ends up with a promotion to expand Maso Pescatore’s “family” businesses in Florida, including hooch distillation and prostitution. Cuban immigration, evangelical tent revivals, the love of women both good and bad, and some rather snappy dialogue (along with a plethora of weaponry) illuminate Joe’s struggle to balance his humanity against his choices. Better known for the psychological thrillers  Mystic River and Shutter Island, Lehane shows his versatility as an author in Live by Night.

 

 Nesbo is the Norwegian author of the Harry Hole (pronounced Hool-eh) books. In Phantom, Hole, having been dismissed from Oslo’s force, is working independently to prove Oleg Rauke, the drug running son of Hole’s former lover, innocent of murder. Nesbo has a “sins of the father” theme running through this book; as he is dying, the victim addresses his dad as part of the ongoing narration while Hole’s motivation stems in part from his guilt at abandoning his paternal role in Oleg’s upbringing. The Harry Hole series is tightly written and often weaves politics and institutional corruption into its intricate plots. Fans of Stieg Larsson and Nelson DeMille won’t want to miss Jo Nesbo and Phantom.

Lori

 
 

Through the Eyes of a Child

Through the Eyes of a Child

posted by:
November 2, 2012 - 7:01am

 

What I DidIt all begins with a boy, a father and a busy street. Christopher Wakling’s latest book, What I Did, shows how one small incident can become a case study in multiple viewpoints, having a much greater impact on people as a result. Billy runs into the road ahead of his father on an outing to the park. His father reacts with the typical fury of an overworked parent, cursing and roughly handling his son. What takes this incident from minor to major is a woman who sees him disciplining the boy and calls child protective services, who launch an investigation. What is equally intriguing and at times baffling for the reader is trying to determine the details of what actually happened, since the story is told by an unreliable narrator--six-year-old Billy.

 

Despite the serious plotline, the narration is often laugh-out-loud funny. Billy’s voice is similar to the young narrators of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, and Emma Donoghue’s Room. Lacking in social skills, he is imaginative and has a unique perspective of the world around him. He also has a fascination with animals and science, and his commentary is interspersed with random bits of trivia. Still, the reader only has Billy’s perspective, and his actions are steered by a six-year-old’s intellectual capacity for understanding what to do and say in order to bring this incident into proper perspective. A few sections read like a “Who’s on First” routine, when Billy misinterprets what is being asked by social workers and doctors. Wakling has an interesting background, and mentioning on his website that this book was in part inspired by his own experience with fatherhood and the character flaws it has exposed in him. This is a unique, engaging read where the reader roots for Billy and his parents, despite their flaws.

 

 

Melanie

 
 

This Ain’t Mayberry

This Ain’t Mayberry

posted by:
October 29, 2012 - 8:10am

A Killing in the HillsCarla is pissed. She is a petulant, angst-riddled teen stuck in a stupid boring diner, in a stupid boring small town, in stupid boring West Virginia waiting for her mom, who is late, again. Out of nowhere POP, POP, POP! The three elderly men sitting at a table near her are executed, systematically shot in the head one after another. Thus begins A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller, the first novel by this Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. 

 

The main character is Belfa Elkins, the prosecuting attorney for the community of Acker’s Gap, who is also Carla’s mother. Bell, as she is known by her friends, was born and raised in Acker’s Gap and is all too familiar with the difficulties and crime particular to this rural and impoverished community. After completing her law degree, she returned to her hometown to try to help with the fight against crime. Similar to its big city counterparts, drugs have taken a stronghold in the region and there has been a steady increase in violent crime and death as a result.

 

This is a cleverly-written tale with as many twists and turns as the snakelike West Virginia mountain roads. Keller, who was born and raised in West Virginia, accurately depicts the harsh realities of the unemployed who reside between played out coalmines and towns where more businesses are closed than open. The complicated relationship between Bell and her daughter is poignantly realistic they forge a prickly path through the turbulent teenage years. Carla can identify the shooter and takes it upon herself to try to help with his capture, and this keeps the suspense building to a surprising climax. The combination of the family storyline and the mystery of the killer’s motive and identity make this a captivating read. Hopefully this won’t be our last visit to Acker’s Gap.

 

Jeanne

 
 

A Little Bit Country

A Little Bit Country

posted by:
October 29, 2012 - 7:45am

City Girl, Country VetLondon veterinarian Maz Harwood is out of work, unlucky in love, and in need of a home when her best friend Emma asks her to fill in at her vet practice in City Girl, Country Vet by Cathy Woodman.  While Maz dreads the doldrums of the country, she wants to help her friend who is taking a six month leave of absence. Maz accepts the offer thinking that a change of scenery is just what the doctor ordered to help heal her recently broken heart.

 

Maz thought the hardest part of the move would be trading in her heels for wellies. She quickly learns that country life is anything but uneventful and the people are definitely not boring. There are the unwelcoming locals who are suspicious of the newcomer. There is the town’s only other vet practice which is determined to destroy any competition. There is the fact that Emma’s practice is in dire financial straits. And of course, there is the handsome son of the rival vet who is most unsuitable, particularly when Maz has sworn off romance.

 

As Maz learns to navigate the perilous politics of country life, she encounters seemingly insurmountable obstacles in her quest to win over the locals, save the lives of her patients, and keep Emma’s practice alive. From rescuing animals from a burning building to dealing with the resentment following her failure to save a beloved pet, Maz has her hands full and is ready to flee back to the comfort of the city. Readers will be transported to a delightful small town and enjoy the slow pace of life in this warm, breezy, romantic comedy with plenty of adorable four-legged friends.

 

Maureen

 
 

Lightning Strikes Twice

The Garden of Evening MistsOne of the literary world’s more prestigious prizes is Great Britain’s Man Booker prize for contemporary fiction. On October 16, Mantel’s novel, Bring Up the Bodies, won this year’s Booker award. Second in a planned trilogy about Thomas Cromwell and the court of Henry VIII, Mantel won the same prize in 2009 for her first book in the series, Wolf Hall. While Mantel is only the third author (and the only woman) ­to win the Booker twice, she is also the only author to win again for a sequel. Between the Covers looked at Bring Up the Bodies in September.

 

One of the short list nominees was Indian poet and musician Jeet Thayil’s debut novel and an homage to the sub-continent’s drug culture, Narcopolis. Thayil, a self-confessed former addict, takes the reader on a fantastical journey through Bombay’s opium dens and brothels. Often revolving around Dimple, a beautiful enigmatic eunuch working as a prostitute and pipe-preparer, the narrative slips in and out of the side stories of other characters while the arrival of heroin begins to exert its influence in this underworld. In interviews, Thayil says he wanted to honor the “poor and marginalized, the voiceless,” whose story rarely is told and he does so in a portrayal that is disturbing and graphic but not gratuitous.

 

 Also on the short list was author Tan Twan Eng for his novel The Garden of Evening Mists. In the earliest stages of dementia, Malaysian judge Yun Ling Teoh is retiring from the bench. Once a prisoner in a Japanese internment camp in the Malayan jungle where her sister died, Ling Teoh then survived the pursuant guerilla civil wars by taking refuge in the Highlands with an exiled Japanese royal gardener and artist. Elegantly written, grim with historical detail, The Garden of Evening Mists tantalizingly reveals the secrets in Ling Teoh’s complex past.

Lori

 
 

Modern Girl Meets Prince Charming

Modern Girl Meets Prince Charming

posted by:
October 26, 2012 - 7:03am

The Runaway PrincessA Royal PainEveryone knows that in fairy tales a common girl meets a handsome prince, they fall in love, she marries him, and they live happily ever after. These two new novels bring that familiar fairy tale theme to life with a twist. In Hester Browne’s The Runaway Princess, Amy Wilde is happy with her gardening business, her friends, and a life out of the spotlight. Then she meets Leo. To her dismay, Amy finds out that her smart, funny, handsome boyfriend is really Prince Leopold William Victor Wolfsburg of Nirona, the ninth most eligible royal bachelor according to YoungHot&Royal.com! After a change occurs in the order of succession, Amy takes on the new role of princess-in-training. Her commoner world is turned upside down as she is thrust into the public eye and must deal with the colorful characters that make up Leo’s famous family. Amy begins to wonder if she can be with Leo and still be herself. Browne’s lovably quirky characters and the warm humor in this modern fairy tale are certain to charm fans of Sophie Kinsella and Helen Fielding.

 

Smart, foul-mouthed Bronte Talbott, the heroine of Megan Mulry’s sexy debut romance A Royal Pain, decides to have a fling with Max Heyworth, the handsome English grad student whom she flirts with at the bookstore. She thinks Max will be the perfect “transitional man” after an ugly breakup with her loser ex-boyfriend Mr. Texas. The plan is a success until she realizes that she has really fallen for him. But Max is head-over-heels in love, and has been since meeting Bronte. He only agreed to her short-term relationship plan because he knows he can convince her to make it something more. He is also hiding something from Bronte-- he is really Maxwell Fitzwilliam-Heyworth, the 19th Duke of Northrop. When Max gets a call that his father is seriously ill, his secrets are exposed. A Royal Pain is a delectable blend of Sex and the City and Cinderella, sure to win Mulry’s new series many devoted fans.

Beth

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And Justice for All

And Justice for All

posted by:
October 22, 2012 - 8:45am

The Round HouseAward-winning author and owner of the Birchbark Books store in Minnesota, Louise Erdrich is of both European and Native American descent. Her Ojibwe heritage is an integral part of her latest novel, The Round House, which revolves around a crime committed against a woman of the Chippewa tribe.

 

Narrated by thirteen-year-old Joe, the story opens with a brutal attack on Joe’s mother Geraldine, a tribal enrollment specialist. Deeply traumatized and unable to cope, Geraldine withdraws to her bedroom, stymieing the police investigation. Joe’s father, a tribal lawyer, is convinced the violence was not random and enlists Joe’s help in reviewing pertinent legal cases which he believes will lead them to the perpetrator. With the help of friends and extended family, Joe uncovers evidence pointing to Linden Lark, a white man with a family history of checkered relations with the Chippewa. Unfortunately, while Geraldine knows the assault took place near the Round House, the reservation’s spiritual center, she cannot pinpoint the exact location and the area includes both tribal lands and state-owned property. With no clear jurisdiction, the case cannot be prosecuted and Lark is freed.

 

Erdrich braids together elements of native culture and mythology, Southern Gothic style, and the commonality of the male adolescent experience, all of which drive Joe’s decisions.  The devastating impact, both past and present, of alcohol on Indian families is unmistakable. Relations between the tribal members and the white community are repeatedly shown as tenuous, the truce uneasy. 

 

The Round House is a multi-faceted jewel.  It is a coming-of-age story, a view of contemporary Native American reservation life, and a thriller turning on legal niceties while relentlessly moving to an inevitable conclusion. Erdrich’s afterword includes information about organizations working to correct the difficulties of prosecuting reservation crimes, especially sexual assault against Native women. 

 

Lori

 
 

There’s No Place Like Home

There’s No Place Like Home

posted by:
October 22, 2012 - 8:15am

The Soldier's WifeBritish Major Dan Riley is returning home to his family after a six month tour of duty in Afghanistan in The Soldier’s Wife, by Joanna Trollope. International bestseller Trollope uses her sixteenth novel to explore the issue of military re-entry and its ripple effect on family members.

 

Dan is returned safely to his wife, Alexa, their three-year-old twins, and his stepdaughter Isabel, but he struggles to adjust. On the surface his family seems to support him, including his proud father and grandfather, both retired military men.  But underneath, tensions are boiling.  Alexa has been offered an exciting teaching position which she cannot accept because of Dan’s likely promotion and yet another move. Isabel is in boarding school, the only good option for the transient military families, and is miserable and running away. And Dan is spending all his time on the base, unable to break the bonds he forged during battle and unwilling to communicate and open up to his wife.

 

Soon everyone who knows the Riley family is trying to help them save their marriage, but it’s up to Alexa to decide if she can sacrifice her needs and those of her family to support Dan’s commitment to his work. And Dan needs to learn to share emotionally with his wife in an effort to bridge the distance between them. Trollope illuminates the complexities of modern life in this story of a family striving to balance duty and ambition. With her signature cast of universally appealing, multigenerational characters, The Soldier's Wife is a timely and nuanced look into the lives of soldiers, their families, and their homecomings from the front lines.

 

Maureen

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Secrets and Lies

Secrets and Lies

posted by:
October 19, 2012 - 7:05am

The Secret KeeperReaders know that Australian author Kate Morton can be counted on to bring them a fascinating story. Her new novel The Secret Keeper examines the idea that we don’t always know the ones we love as well as we believe we do. In the summer of 1961, 16-year-old Laurel had left a family party to daydream in the tree house. She saw a man come to her house and speak with her mother Dorothy. Suddenly, she witnessed her mother stabbing the man to death. The police ruled that it was an act of self-defense, but Laurel knew there was more to the story. The family never spoke about it again, and Laurel’s siblings were never told what happened. That day changed Laurel’s world and her family forever.

 

Fifty years later, Dorothy’s life is near its end. The family gathers to celebrate her 90th birthday, and Laurel returns to her childhood home where she begins piecing together clues about Dorothy’s life before she met and married Laurel’s father. The story of Dorothy’s past takes the reader to wartime London and into the lives of Dorothy, Jimmy, and Vivien. Laurel finally learns the truth about Dorothy’s life in London and the evening in 1941 that resulted in a secret that Dorothy kept for the rest of her life.The story is filled with twists and turns, leaving the reader as intrigued by Dorothy’s past as Laurel is. In The Secret Keeper, Morton intertwines past and present to create a riveting story that will stay with the reader long after the last page is finished.

Beth

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Magical Music and Cambridge Spires

The Bellwether RevivalsBenjamin Wood’s debut novel The Bellwether Revivals begins with a mystery: a crime scene with two people dead and a third barely alive. But what happened prior? The rest of the book is about the events leading up to that moment. Oscar Lowe is a working-class twenty-something who makes a living as a care assistant at a nursing home. Eden and Iris Bellwether are ambitious siblings from a privileged background who both study at Cambridge. A chance meeting brings Oscar into their elite circle, which he soon finds is convoluted and laden with social traps. Oscar begins a relationship with Iris but finds that threatened by the increasing eccentricities of Eden, who believes himself capable of healing through hypnosis and the power of his music. Eden is also the clear leader of their group of friends, which begins to take on cult-like characteristics as Eden’s delusions become more grandiose. When Eden starts to feel he’s losing control of Iris and his parents, real tragedy ensues.

 

A classic story in one sense of the clash between the haves and have nots of society, this is also a gothic tale which delves into diverse topics such as mental illness, social isolation and music theory. Moreover, it is an intergenerational story, where those who were once young and charting the pathway to new innovations are now dependent upon and look up to the younger generation of today. Similar to The Talented Mr. Ripley or School Ties, Wood paints a picture that shows that being wealthy isn’t all it is cracked up to be. Fans of British novels and psychological drama will enjoy this story of complex relationships and intrigue. 

Melanie