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I read this over the New Year and already think of it as the (sleeper) book of the year. A memoir but catalogued as 418.02. Peppered with mysterious photographs that initially had me scratching my head. Here are sisters. The narrator is called Amy. Younger sister “Zoe” has a brain tumor. They end up home schooled. The sisters both fall in love with Sasha who meets a tragic end. Amy acts out with drugs, alcohol, and self-destructive behavior but manages to enter college at 15. Why did I love the book so much? The language! Every sentence is direct, simple yet nuanced—perfect. The story is heartbreaking. At the end, I went back to the photos and now they spoke to me with eloquence.
Newfoundland, where brother and sister manage to survive when their parents and baby sister are taken out by a virulent illness. Despite their youth and their isolation, they get enough fish to trade for supplies when the boat comes by every six months. It’s pretty desperate, though and when puberty comes upon them (they’ve been sharing a bed for warmth and comfort), the handwriting is on the wall. Atmospheric, grim, gripping.
Rainia’s nani brought her up since her mother, pregnant at 16, went off. Obviously her nani wants the best for her, and Raina fulfills one goal by working in banking but has fallen short on the matrimonial front. And she’s approaching 30! She’s in love with Dev but he’s elusive. Reluctantly she meets, then crosses out those on the list of possibilities. The pressure’s too much so she tells her nani she’s gay. This is anathema to the conservative community but her nani becomes supportive which makes the lie even more uncomfortable. Her best friend’s wedding, a multi-day spectacle, stirs the pot feverishly but delivers the home truths that release her to claim herself and, yes, finally connect with the right guy. Sounds formulaic but there’s wisdom here, so you could call it a bonbon book with nutritional value.
An ominous anonymous letter unearthed in the school’s time capsule bears the initials of individuals who are starting to turn up dead 10 years later. Haldur, a demoted detective, turns to Freya, a psychologist, to ferret out the source of the letter. A tangled tale ensues and the perpetrator is quite a surprise. A mystery from Iceland—not many of these around—and quite fascinating.
In a benighted town in Australia, a shocking occurrence. How could the handsome young priest calmly shoot five citizens from the church’s steps? Martin, a journalist, arrives a year later to do a follow-up story and discovers it’s not an open and shut case after all. Dirty doings in the eponymous region just outside town with some police collusion. A beautiful blond bookstore owner, Mandalay, is a single mother with a dark past. She and Martin connect but the new relationship is predictably rocky and he has some moral tangles to face. Brutal, atmospheric, disturbing. Yes!
Back next week.