Great Reads

Bear, Elizabeth. The White City

In a loose sequel to Bear’s alternate history-cum-mystery “New Amsterdam,” we are taken from the New World into the depths of the old. Immortal vampire detective Don Sebastien de Ulloa seeks rest and healing, both for himself and for the human members of his court, the inimitable forensic sorceress Lady Abigail Irene and the lady author, Phoebe Smith.  The trio travel to the depths of Russia, to the White City of Moscow…a place Don Sebastien has not visited in many years.  While he seeks respite, what he finds is only more death. Visiting an old friend, he finds instead a cooling corpse and no trace of the lady he seeks. A mystery he thought was done and gone has re-emerged from hiding, embroiling Don Sebastien and his court in the dangerous jealousies and ancient rivalries of Moscow’s vampire community.

The mystery here is hardly the point. While the motivations are realistic and the crimes dramatic, what readers will find most fascinating are Bear’s characters: the ascerbic Abigail Irene, the unprepossessing Phoebe Smith hiding unexpected depths behind her smile, and, most of all, the ancient, conflicted, and decidedly post-human Don Sebastien. Bear’s vampires definitely do not sparkle, but they captivate nonetheless.

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Roy, Lori. Bent Road

Lori Roy’s debut novel is creepy from the start. It opens at night on a lonely road full of shadows and tumbleweeds where Celia Scott struggles to follow her husband’s disappearing truck around unfamiliar twists and turns. The plot of the novel is similarly dark and serpentine with a few twists of its own. The Scott family returns to the Midwest from Detroit to find a better life for their children and instead finds themselves mired in domestic violence and haunted by family secrets.  Arthur struggles to protect his sister Ruth from her violent, alcoholic husband Ray who becomes even more sinister once he is investigated in connection with a young girl’s disappearance. What’s more, the new charges call to mind the death of another sister, Eve, years before. Many suspect Ray had something to do with Eve’s murder as well.

Although the ending may seem over-the-top to some, this dark, gothic tale of family secrets makes compelling reading. Roy develops interesting characters and keeps the plot moving. Readers will be drawn into the dual mysteries, past and present, that Roy so skillfully creates.

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Just a Thought ... Genre Crossing

While it can easily be argued that the earliest forms of literature were all what today might be called fantasy –Beowulf, The Odyssey, the epic of Gilgamesh—and that the fantastic was a part of mainstream literature for a long time after—Shakespeare, anyone?—in recent decades fantasy and its younger sibling, science fiction, have been relegated to the fringes—read and loved by many, certainly, but not considered to be literary by the cognoscenti and often dismissed in favor of more realistic works. This, however, is a trend that seems to be reversing itself.  The current interest in George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” book series, prompted in part by the popular HBO miniseries based upon the books, is but one example. In addition to the public’s discovery of SF-F authors like Martin, those who have been writing in the genre for many years, there is an emerging trend of literary fiction authors turning to more speculative themes. The success of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and, more recently, Justin Cronin’s The Passage seems to have opened a door for other authors to walk through.  A variety of other authors, best known for their previous works of literary fiction, have recent or forthcoming works of science fiction, fantasy, or horror.

 

Bohjalian, Chris.  The Night Strangers

Duncan, Glen.  The Last Werewolf

Jordan, Hillary.  When She Woke

Koryta, Michael.  The Ridge

Perotta, Tom.  The Leftovers

Shteyngart, Gary.  Super Sad True Love Story

Whitehead, Colson.  Zone One

Nickle, David. Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism

An unusual horror novel set in the past, in a small mountain town in Idaho, Eutopia is a page turner. Jason Thistledown ends up in the strange town of Elaida, Idaho, after his mom and his town are wiped out by a strange disease. An aunt, whom he didn’t know he had, shows up in the aftermath of this catastrophe to spirit Jason away to Elaida where he falls in love and faces the strange beings who inhabit this corner of the world.

As the secrets of Elaida unfold, the book grabs your attention with twists and turns. The founder of Elaida, as it turns out, is trying to build a Eutopia where workers are treated fairly and everybody is happy and cared for. This attempt to build the perfect world involves eugenics and planned procreation with the strange Mister Juke and his ilk. There are strange mountain folk who have fallen under the spell of Mister Juke and it is up to Jason and the Doctor Andrew Waggoner to save what they can of the town when everyone begins to fall under the spell.

The book is original and very readable. If you like horror novels, this is one you are sure to enjoy.

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Yoshimoto, Banana. Goodbye, Tsugumi

Maria Shirakawa has spent her childhood waiting, along with her mother, for her father to obtain a divorce from his first wife. Mother and daughter spent those years living in the seaside inn of  Maria’s aunt and uncle, only seeing Maria’s father on the few occasions he was able to get away from his life in the city to visit. Maria grew up alongside her cousin Tsugumi, a young woman with a frail and sickly body but a vibrant and almost malicious spirit.  Freed from common behavioral norms by the deep conviction that she could die at any moment, Tsugumi is rude, loud-mouthed, spoiled, and too clever by half. She can also be enchanting and mischievous when the mood strikes her. Maria is always torn between annoyance and admiration for her cousin, who is free to flirt with boys and concoct elaborate pranks and revenge schemes with an ease Maria—who is bound by a determination to be the perfect daughter for her distant father—can only admire and resent by turns. When Maria and her mother are finally able to join Maria’s father in the city and become a true family, she finds that she misses Tsugumi bitterly. When Maria’s aunt and uncle determine to sell the inn and move to another town, Maria heads back to spend one last summer with her infuriating and enchanting cousin.

Deliberately paced, with very little emphasis on plot, Goodbye, Tsugumi is a delicate character study. Some awkwardness in sentence structure can perhaps be blamed on the translation from Japanese. For those readers who enjoy quiet, lyrical works and are willing to forego action for insight.

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