Wednesday, July 6, 2016


The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware (July 2016)
If you read the NPR book of the year (2015), In the Dark Dark Wood, then you read Ware's first novel.  The movie rights have been purchased and the paperback is still selling like hotcakes.  This is her second book, and it is another taut psychological thriller.  Instead of a hen party outside of London, the setting for this novel is on a yacht, a luxury liner on its maiden voyage into the dark north of Scandinavia and the Northern Lights.  Lo Blackwood, a London reporter placed on the ship to write about this new cruising idea for rich folks, has just experienced a horrific break-in at her flat, suffering post-traumatic stress.  As she begins her journey, she encounters a young woman in the cabin across the hall (yep, Cabin 10), yet never sees her again on the boat filled with a scant dozen guests.  Ware sprinkles her story with some strange, twisted characters, leading us down paths of "ah-ha" moments that then twist themselves around again.  As Lo ventures further into the mystery, we are dragged with her, turning page after page to see which passenger really is a psychopath.  Great vacation read for the mystery lover!

LaRose by Louise Erdrich
If you are a fan of Erdrich, her latest novel does not disappoint; if you have never read this award-winning author, she is worth an outing.  Part German and part Ojibwa, Erdrich writes of the indigenous people of her own youth, imbuing her stories with grief, tragedy, spirituality, and hope.  Her previous book, The Roundhouse (National Book Award winner) focused on revenge, while LaRose focuses on redemption.  Two families, related by blood and close in proximity, are visited by death - in a hunting accident, one father shoots and kills the son of the other family.  In an act of contrition, he then gives his own five year old son to this family to raise as their own.  Erdrich examines closely each family member:  the mothers, who deal with grief from two different directions; the siblings who miss their brother, and the grieving sister who gains a new one; and the father whose actions started it all.  It is a powerful story that would bring provocative conversation to any book club.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
On the Pacific Northwest bestseller list for the last month, this is the Fargo television writer's first foray into the world of novel-writing.  It is a unique story with a taut plot line that pulled me in from the start.  Struggling artist Scott Burroughs is offered a free plane ride with an eclectic wealthy crowd, to New York City from Martha's vineyard.  However, just a few short minutes after take off, the plane dives into the sea, and Scott and the young son of the family are left broken and alone in the ocean.  The ensuing publicity of Scott's unprecedented swim over eight miles of ocean drives Scott into hiding, and we see the past and present pieces of this plot line begin to knit together.  The over-riding question is how did this plane go down?  Was it an accident?  Was it domestic terrorism?  As Hawley explores each character that was on this fated airplane, numerous theories are floated as to the cause.  Trust me, you will read late into the night to discover each person's secrets and the ultimate reason for this tragic accident.

The Tilted World by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly
Having read Franklin's huge hit, Crooked Letter Crooked Letter, I am a fan of this southern writer.  This time out, Franklin teams up with his wife to create a fascinating story of the infamous 1927 Mississippi delta flood that changed not only the landscape of the south, but the history of the black migration.  The flood is the backdrop for the marriage of Dixie Clay, a poor southern girl mourning the loss of her first child, and her scumbag of a husband who is the top criminal in their small southern town of Hobnob.  Add in a couple of intriguing revenue agents looking for the backwoods moonshiner supplying that part of the state with whiskey, an abandoned infant, a flapper with a drug problem, and an unlikely love story, and the ingredients for a humdinger of a story are mixed together for a solid tale of history, mystery, and disaster.

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
This book was a departure for me.  Found in the 'Nature' section of our bookstore, it is the story of a young British woman who raises and trains a goshawk in an attempt to assuage her grief over her father's death.  Full of descriptive details of both falconry and the English countryside, it is not my normal genre.  While not what you would call a page-turner, it was a welcome respite from the thrillers, fantasy, and tragic tales that typically rest on my bookshelf.  Macdonald delves far into the past, detailing her own obsession with hawks that began as a child, leading to the time when she chooses a goshawk, the most difficult to train of the hawks.  She intersperses her tale with the stories of D.H. White, author of The Once and Future King and the other tales of Camelot.  As Macdonald learns what not to do with goshawks from White's travails with his lost hawk, we begin to see the development of the relationship between Helen and Mabel, her aptly named hawk.  It is a beautiful story, one of grief spliced into the wildness and beauty of the natural world.

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes (July 2016)
If you are an elementary teacher or parent of a middle-reader, this is a book for you.  In other writing, Rhodes has taken pivotal moments in recent U.S. history and turned them into thoughtful books for young readers; she does this in Towers Falling  for the events that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001 and it is powerful.  She follows a young girl whose family has hit a bad patch; dad is unable to work, young children are at home, and they currently reside in a family shelter in Brooklyn.  Deja has never been outside of Brooklyn so when her teacher assigns a history project to learn about the towers, she is completely clueless.  The story follows Deja and her two friends, Ben and Sabeen, as they gather information on how the World Trade center's destruction impacted individuals and their families.  Rhodes does a spectacular job of looking at this in a holistic, multi-generational, and multi-cultural manner; it is a thoughtful, well-written story where kids will learn and be provoked to think about international events and the impact on their lives.

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley
So often in the fantasy books written for elementary to middle school, violence and fearful creatures tend to take the lead.  In Circus Mirandus, however, debut author Cassie Beasley has created a magical tale of beauty and mystery.  Young Micah is heartbroken, as he watches his beloved grandfather wasting away and his overbearing great-aunt comes to take care of him.  Micah has been told the magical tales of the Circus Mirandus by his grandfather for his whole life and he believes that if he can find this circus, they will grant his grandfather the miracle he was once promised.  As Micah and his friend Jenny discover this magical world, they meet extraordinary creatures and put together the history of not only the circus, but his grandfather's past.  It is a beautiful story of love, family, and loyalty.  If you have a child in your life who needs a little magic, I highly recommend this book.

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