Fiction

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

 

Years ago, I read Chris Bohjalian for the first time and while I remember little of the actual plot, what sticks with me is the extremely powerful punch of an ending. (I’d link to the review of Secrets of Eden, but as I mentioned, it was years ago and I was a novice book blogger found of gushing…embarrassing.)

Not all of his books that I’ve read since left such lasting memories and sadly, there is one that I’ve attempted to read multiple times and failed to finish. (Sorry, striving for honesty in 2016)

The Guest Room, however, brings back that powerful wallop of an unexpected ending and the entire book was an inescapable tour de force in making you think and putting real faces on a social issue (human trafficking, such a PC way to say sex slaves) that I think many of us have a hard time understanding.

It starts with something as banal as Richard, a mature sedate successful husband and father, agreeing to host his immature brother’s bachelor party. The idea makes he and his wife cringe a bit, but really, how bad can it be and isn’t it better than the uber-creepy over-done trip to a strip club?

Hold up, what you’re thinking happens, doesn’t. It’s worse and better at the same time. That’s the magic of Bohjalian, he gets you in the feels. You start thinking about what you would do in this situation….or that one, if your husband did this…or that, how would you respond? You start feeling the character’s pain and it isn’t always pleasant. There were times that I felt like I was watching a horror flick. You totally understand the reasons the scantily clad teenagers want to leave the spooky cabin, but you’re silently urging them not to and then you’re begging them. It wasn’t campy like a horror movie, but that urge to second guess their decisions is palatable.

The ending? I may have yelped; don’t think I cried. I’m sure I didn’t. Just like Secrets of Eden, this is a story that is going to stick with me for years and from someone that averages a book a day? That’s saying something.

 Sort of Like Gwen's Signature

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

Anna and the Swallow Man

Have you ever read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas? John Boyne was able to show one boy’s view of WWII in a way that I’d never seen done before or since until now.

Kraków, 1939. A million marching soldiers and a thousand barking dogs. This is no place to grow up. Anna Łania is just seven years old when the Germans take her father, a linguistics professor, during their purge of intellectuals in Poland. She’s alone.

And then Anna meets the Swallow Man. He is a mystery, strange and tall, a skilled deceiver with more than a little magic up his sleeve. And when the soldiers in the streets look at him, they see what he wants them to see.

Over the course of their travels together, Anna and the Swallow Man will dodge bombs, tame soldiers, and even, despite their better judgment, make a friend. But in a world gone mad, everything can prove dangerous. Even the Swallow Man.

It’s heartbreaking to think of a child all alone on the streets of Krakow in 1939. Anna is plucky and smart, but that is no defense against the horrors of the time, doesn’t give her a place to sleep or food in her belly, and it certainly doesn’t make what’s going on around her any easier to understand.  The Swallow Man attempts to teach her how to survive; to cross borders and streams, to seem friendly, not needy and how to best deal with the Wolves (German soldiers) and the Bears (Russian soldiers).

He’s irascible and it often seems that he’s lost that beautiful touch with humanity that as a child, Anna still holds dear, but he’s also dependable in a world that gives Anna nothing else she can depend on. He’s an anti-hero. He’s a survivor. That comes at a cost and Anna may be the one that has to pay it.

Anna and the Swallow Man broke my heart and mended it over and over. It made me grateful for the time and place that I came into the world and angry at the time period she and the real children of the time grew up in. It made me laugh. I cried. It made me want to give up on humanity and then quickly reminded me that not all of us are bad; that we may have quirks and none of us are perfect, but there are still a fair amount of people that have their heart in the right place.

As of right now, I’ve read 335 books this year. This one is my favorite.

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (January 26, 2016)
  • ISBN-10: 0553513346
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553513349

 

I’m grateful to the great folks at Penguin Random House for asking me to be apart of their pre-pub date push for this book.

 Sort of Like Gwen's Signature

 

Game of Mirrors by Andrea Camilleri

Game

A couple of years ago I stumbled onto this wonderful series thanks to my library’s audiobook collection. It was one of those, “Come on Overdrive, just have something good available now. I need a book for the drive tomorrow” moments. Those moments don’t always produce memorable results…Not so that time. I immediately fell in love with the Montalbano series and have kept up ever since.

Inspector Salvo Montalbano is a smart Sicilian cop in the fictional Vigata, with wry sense of humor and a somewhat rag-tag crew of people around him that he often enjoys messing with. Many might want to pigeonhole the mysteries as somewhat cozy, but they often confront many real social and political issues that your average cozy doesn’t touch. Montalbano gets results, but his methods aren’t always conventional or even strictly legal. He’s a smart ass with a heart of gold who gets the job done.  You can’t help love him for it.

Another things that sets the series apart is the language. Camilleri interweaves a whole heap of Italian and the Sicilian dialect into his books without leaving English speakers behind. I credit Camilleri (and Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti Series) with the wee grasp I have of Italian because he makes is natural and easy.

However, this is the first book in the series that I have read as opposed to listening to and there was a huge difference. Grover Gardner narrates the audiobooks and he pronounces all of the Sicilian that doesn’t roll off of your tongue easily. As I was reading this, I heard his voice in my head and would have been lost a few times if I hadn’t already heard him say some words in the prior books. I can’t think of another series or even standalone that I would suggest audio versions more strongly.

If you’re like me and have a yen for Italy, a sarcastic sense of humor, and like your mysteries served with a side of well hidden social commentary….check out Inspector Montalbano. You can start anywhere, but I always try to start series at the beginning for the full experience.

 

Sort of Like Gwen's Signature

The Paris Homicide Series by Frédérique Molay

 

Paris Homicide

I love the gritty psychologically driven Scandinavian crime novels and they led me to reach out for a broader view of European Crime.  Let me tell you, it isn’t all gritty, but that doesn’t mean you have Ms. Marple in the library sipping tea either.

Paris, oohhh, Paris, with the tragic history and all of those romantic spots…Just like any modern city, there are murders there too, fictional and otherwise. In comes, Frédérique Molay, and her creation, Chief of Police Nico Sirsky.

The three part (so far) Paris Homicide series has opened my eyes not only to real-life Paris, but to the interesting way that La Crim’ investigates murder. I say interesting, because the mechanisms and procedures are different from what we are used to here and that adds to the intrigue of the plots for non-native readers.

The plots kept me reading as well. The 7th Woman features a killer of women, Crossing the Line starts with a freaky message secreted away in an odd body part, and City of Blood plays havoc with modern art at the site of a former massive slaughter-house with is now Parc de La Villtte, a world-class cultural center.

Nico Sirsky is different in that he isn’t really some tragically flawed alcoholic with decades of self-imposed wreckage behind him. He has a past just like we all do, the same with sad events, but it doesn’t define him like many fictional crime fighters. He is a good compassionate guy, who is very good at his job, with a teenage son, and a relationship in bloom. He’s multi-dimensional not for his bad habits, but because one can relate to him.  He’s a shift from the norm and really a breath of fresh air because of that.

So, if you want to see more of Paris and how they fight crime, not be afraid of turning the lights out at night, and yet still want some murder in your reading….check out Frédérique Molay, and her work, The Paris Homicide Series.

Check out the review at The Bowed Bookshelf

Sort of Like Gwen's Signature

Reviews in Miniature

Coming Out of a Reading Fog

I read a lot, so much that it is pert near impossible to review everything…or even most…or even. Do you find yourself loving books so much that instead of reviewing what you just finished, you rush to start the next?Anyway, I want to hold myself more accountable to at least mentioning some of the books I blow though while avoiding life.

These books have me peering through the mists of time to mention.

Let Him Go

Let Him Go by Larry Watson

The writing style of this slightly different from the norm, very little in the way of identifying who is saying what and you have to immerse yourself in the characters to figure it out. No matter, immerse you will with a powerful story of letting go and sacrifice in the Dakota of yesterday.

George and Margaret lost their son. However, they are on a journey to get their grandson back. It will cost them in ways that they didn’t imagine. I may have cried.

 

 

Fetch

Fetch the Devil by Clint Richmond

A wealthy mother and daughter go on a trip across the country only to end up dead in the Chihiuahuan Dessert in 1938. Was it Nazi espionage or were they just in the wrong place and the wrong time?

Interesting true crime made more intriguing because it shows how worried we were, rightly so, about Nazi spies even before getting into the war. I liked it so much that it has been staring at me, waiting to be reviewed for months. Most books get ditched mighty quickly after reading here.

 

 

 

woman with a gun

Woman with a Gun by Phillip Margolin

Back in the day, pre-blogging, I loved Margolin. He was a safe author to pick up at airports or really quickly at the store. He never disappointed and this suspenseful mystery won’t let you down.

It’s been a decade since Kathy Moran took this enigmatic photo and discovered the subject’s husband murdered. So what’s the real story behind the photo and why are people still dying?

 

 

 

Vampire

The Last American Vampire by Seth Grahame-Smith

Squeee a sequel to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter! Yikes, more name dropping than the latest celebrity memoir!

The first book featured a whole new way to love Lincoln. This one was a fun lark that, while a fun lark, doesn’t break as much ground. (ha ha, breaking ground and vampires)

It was a guilty pleasure and I blew through it like a house on fire.

 

 

De Niro

De Niro: A Life by Shawn Levy

I hoped the book would give me more of an idea of what makes De Niro tick was more of a rehash of his roles and a view of De Niro from afar. While I understand the roles he actually has taken, there is no further glimpses into why he picks them really other than perhaps, having worked with them before…or never having done so.

To be fair, most bios of film actors fall into this trap.

 

Sort of Like Gwen's Signature

 

 

I received De Niro: A Life from Blogging for Books for this review.