Friday, February 5, 2016

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald


Sara Lindqvist is doing something daring!  Finding herself unemployed after the bookshop she worked in closes she decides to take her pen pal Amy up on her offer to visit for a few months.  Sara has never done anything so adventurous.  Yes, Amy is an elderly woman living in the small town of Broken Wheel, Iowa, but still it’s America!  A real vacation, a real adventure, her first time away from Sweden!  

Sara is a little concerned when Amy doesn’t show up at the nearby town of Hope to pick her up.  When finally, after a couple of hours, one of the townsfolk Amy mentioned in her letters does arrive, Sara learns the horrible reason for Amy’s tardiness.  Amy has passed away.  Sara is at a loss and starts trying to figure out what she will do but the town insists that any guest of Amy’s is a guest of theirs and they insist she stay in Amy’s house and enjoy her time in Broken Wheel.  But Sara is a bit bored.  After seeing the empty storefronts on Main Street she has an idea: opening a bookshop and using the books Amy left behind as the inventory to start her endeavor.  The locals are a little confused why they would need, or even want, books, but they are happy that their tourist is happy and pretty soon no one in Broken Wheel, not even Sara, can imagine Broken Wheel without her.

Any book lover will love this book.  There are plenty of references to classic and popular literature and I’m sure everyone will recognize at least one.  The locals are set in their ways, as is Sara and it’s a joy to watch all these characters step out of their comfort zones and rally around a foreign entity: meaning both Sara and the books.  There are some serious subjects addressed in the pages, but like many novels about small towns, it is told lightheartedly and with humor.  By the time you finish you’ll want to take a vacation in Broken Wheel yourself.

Fun on audio – Lorelei King reads Amy’s letters to Sara and I had a hard time picturing an elderly woman since she voices the Stephanie Plum book!  Fiona Hardingham does a wonderful job with the lion’s share of the narration and gets the local accents as well as Sara’s Swedish one spot on.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

Richard Chapman, a well-off investment banker living in Westchester, decides to be a good big brother and host his younger brother’s bachelor party at his house.  Richard sends his wife and daughter to their grandmother’s house in New York City for the weekend and is mentally prepared for some adult entertainment and some cleanup.  Things don’t go as he planned.  The best man is in charge of booking the strippers but he hires girls willing to do much more for their clients.  Sophie and Alexandra arrive with two burly (scary) bodyguards in tow.  Before the night of debauchery comes to an end the two women murder their bodyguards and flee.  The police believe that the two were Russian sex slaves forced into prostitution; what follows is the aftermath of that Friday night party in the suburbs.

The story is told in alternating points of view between Richard, his wife and Alexandra, which makes the story much deeper than it would otherwise have been.  From Richard we get his confusion on how something so simple could go so wrong, as well as his guilt over what happened during the party and his frustration and disgust with the reaction of some of the (willing) participants.  His wife has to deal with her feelings of betrayal as well as public scrutiny of the events that occurred in her home.  But the real interesting point of view is Alexandra’s.  Forced into prostitution at a very young age she is nineteen and has been in America only a few short months.  She tells the story of her life as a sex slave in a straightforward manner.  She doesn’t sugar coat anything, but she tells it as it happened with the attitude that what already happened is in the past and she can’t dwell on it or go crazy. 

I listened to this book and it was a good, yet difficult listen.  Again, Alexandra didn’t focus on the bad things and how it made her feel, but she told you exactly what happened to her, and it wasn’t easy to hear.  The audiobook uses two readers, one for Alexandra in a Russian accent with language issues, mostly dropped articles, and another to read all the American sections.  This method really made Alexandra come to life.

The ethical and legal quandaries the Americans in the book encounter are interesting and make you think (and scowl in disgust a lot of the time) but it is Alexandra and your hopes for her that make you keep reading.  Will give you one warning, the ending is more Jodi Picoult than Bohjalian in my opinion – but it fits and I think most people will like it.

ID:A (Foreign Film – Danish Thriller)

ID:A (Foreign Film – Danish Thriller)

A woman wakes up on a riverbank clutching a duffel bag containing millions of Euros.  Ordinarily waking up to such riches would be wonderful but this woman doesn’t know where she is, where the money came from or who she is.  She manages to get to a town and book a room where she is able to figure out she is in France, she was recently injured and stitched up by a professional and while she speaks French she isn’t a native speaker.  So begins her journey to discover herself and her past.

The main character’s name is Ida but the title of the film is an abbreviation for Identity: Anonymous.  Every time you think you know the whole story something else happens and the plot does a complete 180 about halfway through the film.  Reviews compared it to a Hitchcock thriller and I agree.  I’m sitting here typing and wanting to say things that I simply can’t without giving one of the twists away.  Intrigue, violence and revenge come together to make a dark thriller that ends with justice, at least in my mind, being served.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Swords of Good Men by Snorri Kristjansson

Swords of Good Men by Snorri Kristjansson

King Olav Tryggvason wants to unite Norway under the White Christ while another army, followers of the Norse Gods and led by a mysterious woman, wants to return to the old ways and crush the spread of Christianity.  The town of Stenvik lies halfway between two armies.  Swedes Ulfar and Geiri have one more town to visit on their town of the surrounding regions before returning home to Sweden.  Unfortunately that last town is Stenvik and they are there when the armies start to converge.

The action jumps around a lot so until you really have the characters established firmly in your brain it can be a bit confusing.  The author puts place names prior to the jumps which helps a lot.  There comes a point where all is clear and the story just takes off. 

This is a brutal account of the siege of a Viking town that really hits home with how brutal, yet ingenious, warfare was at the time.  Technically this is a fantasy book, the army led by a follower of the Norse Gods uses magic, but it is not ever-present.  People who don’t like fantasy but are fans of military historical fiction will find a lot to like here.  Especially since the ending is ripe for a sequel.

If you love the television show Vikings (I am a huge fan) I think you’ll read this identifying parts from the siege of Paris sequence as well as wondering what they will be incorporating into next season.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Tournament by Matthew Reilly

The Tournament by Matthew Reilly

The Sultan of the Ottoman Empire sends an invitation across the world to invite chess champions to Constantinople in 1534 to complete in the first world-wide chess tournament.  The invitation to Great Britain is answered by a good friend of Roger Ascham, who happens to be the tutor of young Princess Elizabeth Tudor.  Ascham suggests Elizabeth come along on the journey to learn about the world and see life in all its variety firsthand.  A motley party of chaperones and friends accompany young Elizabeth on her travels.  Constantinople is a city of wonders and delights, but also debauchery, treachery and murder.  Ascham is approached by the Sultan to solve the murder of a visiting cardinal and the intrigue that surrounds him and his pupil will require all his wits and reason to solve.

Fans of Reilly’s fast paced thrillers may not enjoy this book as much as historical mystery fans.  The pace is slower than some mysteries; travel was difficult and long and chess is not exactly played at breakneck speed.  There are a lot of descriptions about the goings on in the harem, the harsh realities of poverty and the power of the rich and powerful.  The mystery and palace intrigue is multi-layered and murder upon murder makes puzzling out who did what extremely challenging.  I thought it was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed it on audio.  

Friday, January 15, 2016

Bohemian Gospel by Dana Chamblee Carpenter

Bohemian Gospel by Dana Chamblee Carpenter

In 13th Century Bohemia King Ottakar is horribly injured by an errant arrow and brought to the closest monetary for healing.   Thankfully Mouse, a young girl who is an unusually talented healer, is there and takes over his care.  The King is thankful, so thankful he declares Mouse his ward, and takes her with him to his castle.  Mouse, who is orphaned, does not know her parents, and is mysteriously denied communion by the brothers and sisters she was raised with, is thrilled believing she will begin a new life.  However she knows she must keep her talents at bay.

Mouse is an interesting character.  I didn’t realize that “powers” would be a part of the story and they blend seamlessly with the narrative.  She is a good person dealing with immense power.  With words she commands her would-be rapist to GO AWAY and he turned and began walking.  No one has seen him since… 

Her inner struggle with being good and trying to be happy and find a place in the world can be heartbreaking; and hence, my displeasure with the book.  I loved this book until I was about three-quarters finished.  Then the tone changed, which I really don’t appreciate.  Just when you are hoping things are going right for this woman, doom and gloom and peril is thrown her way.  I stuck with the story, because I loved it that much until that point, to get to an interesting ending.  But one that still didn’t leave me in a happy place.

For those that want to read about medieval life in a foreign local, don’t mind magic, and like their books to end on a dark note.   

Friday, January 8, 2016

Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart

Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart

It is 1914 in Paterson, New Jersey.  The Kopp sisters, Constance, Norma and Fleurette, are headed to town in their horse and buggy when they are hit by an automobile.  Bystanders help the three sisters, injuries to their persons and their horse is minimal, but their buggy is going to need a great deal of repair.  Bystanders witnessed the whole event and chime in that it was the automobile driver’s fault.  Constance Kopp, the eldest and the tallest and the strongest, detains the driver long enough to get factory owner Henry Kaufman’s particulars.  What should be solved through simple restitution instead becomes a long drawn out affair involving the police, the newspapers, threats, kidnapping attempts and more.

Constance is a really interesting woman holding this family of sisters together at a semi-rural farm after the passing of their mother.  She is a strong, and strong willed person, who is determined to make her way in the world and give her sisters a good life.  Her narrative voice is also wonderful, all the details you need, but none of the long winded details you don’t that tend to bog down some historical fiction.

The best part of the book?  That it happened, sort of.  The events are based on events documented in the local papers of the time and the author references what is true and what she took liberties with in the epilogue.

Anyone looking for a witty, well crafted story, with the added bonus that it takes place in historical New Jersey, won’t be disappointed.