This installment: 934 A.D in England (f); a Scandinavian mystery—death of a chef (f); old and new Muslim tensions (f); slipping between portals (f); the power of literature, first hand (nf), and crippled life (f). [Note: the last three were recommended by my wonderful blog editor, Ana Stanescu, when she learned I wasn’t coming up with winners to share.]
The Abbot’s Tale by Conn Iggulden
Historical fiction isn’t usually my thing, though I’ve gotten hooked by Follett and Mantel. But here we are in 934 A.D. and Dunston and his brother Wulfric are dropped off at the monastery after their mother died. It’s a cruel place but Dunstan has a steely core that gets him through some very unfortunate events and eventually catapults him into spheres of influence and wealth. Dunstan is fierce and conniving—I never warmed up to him—but I also saw how the business of sin and guilt could really tweak a person. His fortune waxes and wanes and there’s suspense. Intriguing (and so glad I can’t time-travel back there except on the page.)
No Echo by Anne Holt
Initially this Scandinavian mystery was so mysterious that I gave up. But it landed on my desk again and I got into its weird world of restaurants, publishing, and funky police procedurals. Billy T., chief inspector, has a bad toothache and other torments. Hanne Wilhelmsen, brilliant policewoman, did a strange bunk to Italy and now that she’s back, she and Billy are at odds. The dead chef is an unpleasant figure. A reluctant informant, Hairy Mary, is a hoot of sorts despite her foul habits. Good stuff if you hang in there.
The Kindness of Enemies by Leila Aboulela
Split between two cultures, Natasha is looking into the life of Shamil, a Muslim hero (depending on whose side you’re on). Chapters toggle between Scotland in 2010 where she’s doing research and Shamil’s time in Georgia, mid 1850’s, in which he led an insurrection against the Russians. Her father is from Sudan, her mother from Georgia, and things get very complicated indeed, especially when a young friend is arrested as a terrorist. A fascinating side story: the Russian princess held for ransom by Shamil. Intricate, vivid, and very thought-provoking. A stretch for me but one I was very willing to take on.
Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Oh those “homes for wayward children”—in this case ones who have slipped back and forth through various portals until they get stuck in ours. These are teenagers and one is a murderer. The worlds are categorized into Nonsense or Logic, fairylands of sorts, and though things in these fantasylands are often rigorous and demanding, they’re home. Especially fascinating, the sisters Jack and Jill; one seems tough, one extremely sweet but…McGuire creates a world (or worlds) that seems real, which makes the book very intriguing.
Reading with Patrick by Michelle Kuo
Subtitled A Teacher, a Student, and a Life-Changing Friendship. Her parents wanted Kuo to go straight to law school after Harvard, but she was determined to do service with Teach for America in the Mississippi delta. There she met Patrick who at first seemed disconnected and diffident but then really got into the books she shared with him. Would this be a success story and make the whole experience which had many discouraging moments seem worth it? Well right after she got her law degree she learned that Patrick had been jailed for a serious offence so she goes back down to see how she might help. This time literature is a life-line and gets him through his hard time and into a functional if modest post-incarceration future. The power of words—and of connection. Inspiring!
So Lucky by Nicola Griffith
One of those ironic titles, at least at the start. The protagonist, Mara, has multiple sclerosis and there goes her vigorous life. What with health challenges she can no longer do her job as head of an AIDS organization. Martial arts go by the wayside and her marital situation is already up a creek. (Her wife met someone new.) And Mara’s lover has taken a job in New Zealand. What a load of misery: very few remedies and lots of frustration as a cripple. Mara harnesses her fury by starting another organization to empower others facing the same challenges. She’s very effective! There’s another level of fear with a murderer who seems to be targeting cripples. Could the connection be through her mailing list? I’d read this a while ago and got a little overwhelmed by Mara’s intensity, but on this second round, appreciated it for that fierce candor and glimpse into the underworld of disability.
Back next week.