The Leopard by Jo Nesbo
Now that winter break has arrived, and I was smart enough to have presentations the last week of school, I have a clear schedule ahead for pure, unadulterated pleasure-reading - yippee!! The first book I finished was the follow-up book to The Snowman (written about in an earlier post). Nesbo is a Norwegian writer who creates some creepy bad guys, flawed heroes, and twisted plot lines. In other words, his books are page turners. His lead homicide detective in Oslo is Harry Hole (again, not like a hole in the ground but "Hoo-lay" - sounds much more foreign and cool to say it that way regardless.) We first find Harry in the bowels of Hong Kong, madly in love with his opium pipe, trying to escape the demons of his past. As the beautiful young detective convinces him there's another serial killer in Sweden, Harry's addiction to murder proves stronger than his addiction to drugs, and thus...the story unfolds. Nesbo is a master at leading his readers, and his detectives, in one direction and then twisting us all up in knots, only to find ourselves at a new junction. The plot moves from Oslo, to the countryside, to the Congo, and back as we, the readers, continue predicting who the murderer might be. At times the Scandinavian names can be confusing, so putting down the book, and picking it up weeks later, can be problematic. Besides, you will want to know 'who dunnit.' There's a few stomach churning moments, so this book is not for weak stomaches, but if you like a good mystery, this is a great one.
The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian
I've read a few of Bohjalian's books before, and he tends to be a fairly eclectic writer. Midwives was a story of a home birth gone wrong and the legal repercussions that followed, The Double Bind was a story of a mentally ill girl, a horrific rape, and the characters of The Great Gatsby, Skeletons at the Feast was a historical fiction on Germans and their lives during WWII, and The Night Strangers was a fantastical magical book on a small town in New England and a pilot trying to recover from a plane crash. As you can see, Bohjalian doesn't seem to have a 'set' genre. However, I have always been unable to put his books down; he has a compelling writing style, not what I'd call 'lyrical' but a very good story-teller.
His latest book, The Sandcastle Girls, while having some similarities in style, is so very different that it's hard to know where to begin. It is the story of the Armenian genocide and begins in Aleppo, Syria in 1915. The main characters are Armen, an Armenian engineer and Elizabeth Endicott, a Bostonian WASP. Part historical fiction, part drama, part mystery, and part love story, it is also the story of a world gone awry, where over a million Armenians were murdered, marched through a deadly desert, raped, starved, and forgotten by a world where religious jihads were not covered 24/7 by CNN. The stories of these women (always women and children, as the men were systematically annihilated) is difficult to read at times, heart-breaking and inspiring. I dreamt of them at night, and could not wait each day to grab this book once again. Read in just two days, I would say that Sandcastle Girls is Chris Bohjalian's masterpiece. This is a book for men or women, any age (though the stories of brutality may be too raw for middle school and younger), and is a piece of history we should all know. It is not a book I will forget any time soon.
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
In The Secret Keeper, the main character Laurel is a rather well-known character actress in England today, but has some serious issues that need to be uncovered, due to the secrets of her mother's past. The plot line is split amongst the present day as the children gather at their mother's death bed, the Blitz in London of 1941, and Australia and the childhood of another leading character. To say more might give things away and I'd hate to be a spoiler. Sufficient to say, this is a fabulous "Brain-Candy" book that will not disappoint you. And instead of the 'stage littered with bodies,' I found myself smiling and delighted as I turned the last page. Delectable book that I absolutely could not put down.