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On Foreign Shores

On Foreign Shores

posted by:
June 29, 2012 - 8:01am

Don't Cry Tai LakeThe StonecutterFans of mysteries set in exotic locales will be in luck this month, with two new mysteries from faraway lands.

 

Don’t Cry, Tai Lake by Qiu Xiaolong is set in Wuxi, China and features Inspector Chen Cao, the chief inspector of the Shanghai police department.  Inspector Chen earns a much needed vacation and heads to a private resort on Tai Lake, only to discover that the lake is heavily polluted by the toxic runoff from local manufacturing plants. Soon the director of one of these plants is found murdered, and an environmental activist is accused. A young woman named Shanshan is certain that the suspect is innocent and enlists Inspector Chen’s help in solving the crime.

 

Qui Xiaolong was born in Shanghai but now lives in St. Louis, Missouri with his family and currently writes his novels in the English language. Don’t Cry Tai Lake is the seventh novel featuring Inspector Chen, and brings awareness to the very real problem of water pollution in China. The series began with Death of a Red Heroine in 2000.

 

Bundle up and head to Sweden to discover The Stonecutter by Camilla Lackberg. This novel features detective Patrick Hedstrom who travels to Fjallbacka to solve the murder of a little girl who was found in a fisherman’s net. Fjallbacka is a quiet resort town, idyllic on the surface, but containing dreadful secrets. The murder of Sara Florin will change the lives of the residents of the town and threaten to tear Fjallbacka apart. 

 

The Stonecutter is the third in the Patrick Hedstrom series, following The Ice Princess and The Preacher. Lackberg was an economist in Stockholm, Sweden, but quickly realized her dream was writing crime novels. Today she is one of the top female authors in Sweden. She was born in Fjallbacka in 1974 and with The Stonecutter she revisits her childhood home.

 

If you can’t take a vacation to these exotic locales this summer, be sure to visit them in these great new mystery novels.

Doug

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A Divided Cultural Identity

A Divided Cultural Identity

posted by:
June 29, 2012 - 7:01am

Drifting HouseKrys Lee's fiction debut, Drifting House, is a unique collection of gritty short stories that examines the lives of Koreans and Korean Americans, from post WWII to present day. In “The Salaryman,” a man is fired from a bankrupted company and decides to join the other countless men who have turned to homeless life on the streets to avoid bringing shame upon their families.  In preparation for a meeting with his estranged wife, he attempts to disguise his new life by shining his briefcase and spraying himself with a department store’s sample of Ralph Lauren Polo cologne. 

 

The term “goose father” originated during the Vietnam War to describe the Korean soldiers fighting for the U.S. army who sent money back to their families. In a story of the same name, Gilho Pak, a successful accountant, leads a solitary and hardworking existence in Korea to support the education of his wife and children who are studying overseas in America.  His ideas of life, happiness, and sexuality are all disrupted when he decides to take a tenant, the youthful and intuitive Wuseong who arrives with an injured pet goose tucked under his arm.

 

Notions of home, family and collective national identity are challenged as the reader follows the mother who fakes an American marriage in search of her kidnapped daughter, and journeys with the young siblings trekking to China to escape North Korea’s famine. Readers who enjoyed Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker or Haruki Murakami’s After the Quake will appreciate Lee’s ability to depict her many distressed characters with grace and anomalous humor.  Although the characters in these nine evocative tales vary greatly in age, social rank, and motive, each will stay with you long after you’ve put down the book.

Sarah Jane

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Welcome to Spindle Cove

Welcome to Spindle Cove

posted by:
June 26, 2012 - 8:30am

A Night to SurrenderA Week to be WickedRomance author Tessa Dare is one of the most popular up-and-coming Regency romance writers today. Her feisty, educated heroines and witty banter have quickly made her a fan favorite. Dare says that her new Spindle Cove series was inspired by the militia coming to Meryton in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Spindle Cove is a fictional seaside town where rich families send their daughters who don’t fit into society for one reason or another. Life changes for everyone when a militia is raised to defend Spindle Cove.

 

The first novel in the series, A Night to Surrender, is a finalist for the 2012 RITA Award for Regency Historical Romance. Victor Bramwell, the Earl of Rycliff, is injured in battle and sent to Spindle Cove (a.k.a. Spinster Cove) to raise a militia to defend the coast. Bram wants to be anywhere else, preferably in the field of battle, but he will follow his orders here in Spindle Cove.  Susanna Finch wants to keep Spindle Cove a safe haven for intelligent, unusual women, and Bram’s militia may ruin everything. Susanna and Bram are immediately attracted to each other, but battle lines are quickly drawn as each of these two characters has so much to lose.

 

The second Spindle Cove book, A Week to Be Wicked, was recently released. Bluestocking Minerva Highwood has a proposition for Bram’s good-for- nothing cousin Colin Sandhurst, Lord Payne. The two of them will pretend to elope to Scotland, but in reality they will travel to Edinburgh to present Minerva’s fossil findings at a geological conference. When Minerva’s presentation wins the prize, Colin will receive Minerva’s winnings. The two of them end up on a crazy road-trip that changes them both forever. This novel is a hilarious, sexy romp through the countryside that will delight readers. 

 

Beth

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As the World Slowly Turns

As the World Slowly Turns

posted by:
June 25, 2012 - 8:30am

The Age of MiraclesWho among us hasn’t wished for more hours in a day?  In The Age of Miracles, debut author Karen Thompson Walker presents a world in which having more time is taken to the extreme. For no apparent reason, the earth has slowed its daily rotation, lengthening the day by a few minutes. This “slowing” continues to grow incrementally, and the days and nights grow longer. Society divides itself into two groups: “real-timers” who follow the sun, sleeping whenever it is dark and staying awake when there is light, and “clock-timers” who live by the standard 24-hours-in-a-day system and adhere to a regular schedule for school, work, and sleep. As time goes on and on, real-timers are bullied and eventually forced to move into communes. 

 

People soon begin to realize how disastrous the consequences of more time can be. Power outages, food shortages, environmental changes, behavioral problems and physical and mental illnesses plague people worldwide. Both societal groups eventually suffer from the seemingly endless days and nights as the struggle to be right becomes the struggle to survive.

 

The Age of Miracles is told from a young girl’s point of view, though this is not a children’s story. Julia experiences all of the catastrophic environmental changes through the filter of her own life, which is filled with the everyday challenges of growing up.  Julia comes to realize that no one is perfect as she watches her friends, family members and community deal with the slowing in very different ways. Readers who enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction such as Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer or On the Beach by Nevil Shute will enjoy this title, which has excellent teen-crossover appeal.

Sam

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One Man’s Journey, One Family’s Saga, One Country’s History

Wish You Were HereReflection can sometimes tell the whole story.  In Graham Swift’s Wish You Were Here, there are few characters, even less action, but plenty about how memory and evaluation of past choices occupy our present-day lives. 

 

The story revolves around Jack, who came from a Devonshire farming family but was forced to abandon his family’s profession after fear of mad-cow disease forced them to put the herd down.  As the story begins, the majority of the family members once close to Jack, those who helped define him, have passed.  He is reliant solely on his wife Ellie, with whom he has co-owned a campground and vacation resort for several years.  This has afforded them a more luxurious lifestyle than farming, but has set them adrift from the family and community connections of their childhood. 

 

The real shift in the story comes when Jack belatedly learns of the death of his brother Tom, a soldier who has been killed in Iraq.  Tom was already long estranged from the family, but going to retrieve his body and bring him home for burial proves a catalyst for Jack to reflect back on his life and choices.  More overarching is the theme of the impact of war not just on his family but on the country of England as a whole, going back many generations. 

 

Swift, who previously won the Booker Prize for Last Orders, spins a slow tale, bereft of suspense or much action. Yet the story he tells is beautiful and poignant.  Readers will want to know how Jack reached his present state, and what the near future holds for him.  Fans of The Shipping News or Olive Kitteridge will appreciate this understated tale about connections to home and family. 

 

Melanie

 
 

Puppy Love

Puppy Love

posted by:
June 22, 2012 - 8:00am

The Lucky Dog Matchmaking ServiceIn The Lucky Dog Matchmaking Service by Beth Kendrick, readers will soon fall for Lara Madigan and all of her furry friends. Lara has a special talent for placing the right pup with the right owner and she and her best friend founded the Lucky Dog Rescue Group which has already saved dozens of dogs. They try to find the perfect dog for the perfect family, and until that placement, the dogs live with Lara and her boyfriend, Evan Walker. Between the rescuing, training, and matching, Lara is consumed by all things four-legged, and she and Evan start a pattern of fighting over canine-related issues. Finally, Evan erupts over all of the damage and drool and drops a bombshell on her: he’s not a dog person!

 

Horrified, Lara moves out and is forced to her mother’s home with all the rescue dogs (8 at this point) in tow. That home is a mansion with state of the art appliances and priceless interior design details. Lara’s mother is everything Lara isn’t, and is quick to point out Lara’s failures. When Lara’s excellent reputation spreads among her mother’s wealthy neighbors, she finds herself overwhelmed with demands for her training services. Lara’s hard work is finally paying off, her relationship with her mother is improving, and maybe, just maybe, one of her rescue dogs will lead her to the perfect guy! Even the most ardent cat lovers will enjoy Lara’s journey in this funny, romantic story filled with the most delightful doggies.

 

Maureen

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Love, Loss, and Murder

Love, Loss, and Murder

posted by:
June 19, 2012 - 8:01am

A Deeper DarknessJ.T. Ellison’s A Deeper Darkness is a thriller that pulls the reader deeper and deeper into the story with its well-paced suspense and complex characters.

 

Ex-Army Ranger Eddie Donovan was murdered in an apparent carjacking, but his mother doesn’t believe that is all there is to the story. She asks Eddie’s ex-girlfriend Dr. Samantha Owens, who is now the head medical examiner for the state of Tennessee, to come to Washington, D. C. and perform a second autopsy. What Sam finds pulls her into the center of an investigation that she never could have expected. 

 

Both Eddie and another man from his Army Rangers unit have been murdered in Washington, D.C., and the ballistics show that they were shot with the same gun. In Virginia, another man from their unit killed his mother and committed suicide. Only one man remains from the group of friends who served together. Off-the-grid loner Xander Whitfield is either the key to solving the murders or the prime suspect for all of them. Something happened in Afghanistan that the group covered up, but this secret won’t stay buried.

 

A Deeper Darkness is a heart-pounding thriller, but it is also a story of love and loss. Sam’s husband and two young children were killed in the floods in Nashville in 2010, and she is struggling with her grief for the family she lost. She has developed OCD that she tries to ignore, but the mounting pressure from this case pushes her struggle to the forefront of her life. This is the first novel in a new series, so readers will get to follow Sam as she continues to heal.

Beth

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Coming of Age on the Lower East Side

UnterzakhnThe new graphic novel, Unterzakhn (Yiddish for “underthings”) by Leela Corman tells the story of twin sisters, Esther and Fanya. The sisters grow up on the Lower East Side of New York at the beginning of the twentieth century. Through Corman’s attention to detail in both her art and text, readers are immediately transported to New York City, 1909. In addition to the lively New York story, Corman also interweaves the family’s tragic past in nineteenth century Russia.

Daughters of Jewish Russian immigrants, sisters Esther and Fanya must learn how to survive when few choices were available to young women. The sisters take decidedly different paths. Esther works for a woman who runs a burlesque theater and Fanya goes to work for a “woman doctor.” These choices go on to shape them as the young woman they become. Although their lives are different in nearly every way--lifestyle, politics and values--their childhood bond enables the sisters to transcend these differences in adulthood.

As in any excellent graphic novel, the text and illustrations work together seamlessly in telling the story. Corman’s keen attention to detail allows the reader to enter Fanya and Esther’s world. Corman gives a real sense of New York and Russia, spanning from the late 1890s to the 1920s. She sprinkles the story with Yiddish phrases throughout and lovingly depicts Russian village life in the late nineteenth century. Corman is also particularly adept at conveying her female characters’ expressions as they go through a lifetime of emotions. Unterzakhn is very much a classic immigrant story but at the story’s core is a tale of two sisters figuring out to survive as young women in this time and place.

Zeke

 
 

The Left and Right Hands

The Left and Right Hands

posted by:
June 18, 2012 - 8:30am

The Book Of JonasFifteen-year-old Younas is brought to Pittsburgh after the Muslim village in which he lives is destroyed and his family killed by American troops.  Rechristened Jonas, he asks a relief worker why her organization is helping him. She responds:

 

"...our country sometimes has a habit of making a mess with its left hand and cleaning it up with its right. We are the right hand."

 

Author Stephen Dau explores these themes of duality and contradiction in his thoughtful debut novel, The Book of Jonas.

 

As in Chris Cleave’s bestselling Little Bee, Dau tells the story of a young immigrant leaving behind unspeakable horrors in a homeland at odds with the comfortable English-speaking country of destination. The author allows the story to unfold using alternating narrators, offering sharp commentary on Western customs and culture as viewed by the immigrant Jonas. His fate is entwined with that of MIA Christopher Henderson, an American soldier party to the offensive on his village, and Jonas is gently pressured to recount his past by both his US court-ordered counselor and Christopher’s mother who is desperate for any news of her son. Jonas reflects that the truth of a matter and what the law requires don’t necessarily coincide and he attempts to adapt to his new country while struggling to reconcile the nature of his relationship with the soldier. Dau dangles the questions of who is the savior and who is the saved and wonders about the imprecision of memory and words to convey the truth of an experience in this compelling and beautifully written book.  

 

Lori

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C'est Magnifique!

C'est Magnifique!

posted by:
June 15, 2012 - 8:30am

Passing LoveIn Passing Love by Jacqueline Luckett, the reader first meets Nicole-Marie following the death of her best friend. Realizing life is too short, she satisfies a long-time dream to spend a month in Paris. Leaving a marriage proposal (from her already married boyfriend) in her wake, she embarks on the trip of a lifetime. Her vacation soon turns into an investigation when Nicole-Marie finds a picture of her father with an unidentified woman. She is drawn to this photo and feels compelled to find out who this mysterious woman is and more importantly, what her relationship was with her dad. 

   

That woman is Ruby Garret, a beautiful woman living in Mississippi during World War II. Ruby is an independent thinker desperate to get out of the south. She is tired of being treated as a second-class citizen in a world where Jim Crow laws governed. Ruby’s chance to escape comes in the form of Arnett, an older musician with a dangerous side. Ruby is soon part of the legion of African-Americans who moved to colorblind Paris during the glittering post World War II years which were awash in music, poetry, and art. 

 

Luckett manages to recreate both the Paris of today and the sparkling creative Paris of the ‘40s and ‘50s. Indeed, the City of Lights is a major character in this story told in alternating viewpoints and across six decades. Nicole-Marie and Ruby are two strong women whose stories are filled with secrets and betrayal, but also love and a celebration of life after fifty. 

Maureen