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Book review round-up July 30, 2010

Posted by Galaxy in Book Reviews.
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As I mentioned last post, I have been reading some excellent books recently, and today I’ve got a blurb for each.

I’ll start with Little Bee, by Chris Cleave, which is likely to be my favorite book of the summer, if not the year. Little Bee isn’t brand new–it was first published in the States last year–but it took me a while to get to it. I am so glad I finally did. Cleave’s writing is simply brilliant, and Little Bee is a heartbreaking and beautiful character. Little Bee is a 16 year old Nigerian refugee whose escape to the UK awarded her a two year stay in a detention center. She speaks to the reader as if over a cup of tea, with candor and with patience for all that you do not understand about the world. Her story is one that you will not soon forget.

Having struggled through The City & the City last year, only to realize as I closed the book that I really liked it, I was excited to read China Mieville’s new novel, Kraken. This is a novel for fantasy readers, certainly. Reminiscent of books like Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, our Everyman in this story is Billy Harrow, a curator at the London Museum of Natural History. The museum has recently acquired an enormous giant squid specimen that has been getting a great deal of attention from the public. When the squid mysteriously vanishes–tank and all–Billy is sucked into a strange layer of London life that encompasses cults of all descriptions (including, naturally, a group of squid worshipers), gods, monsters, angels, an evil tattoo, and two especially horrifying assassins. It’s a chaotic ride, but a fun one, full of literary references and Mieville’s playful use of language.

I found The Tale of Halcyon Crane, by Wendy Webb, to be a perfectly delicious ghost story with a splash of romance. Halcyon lost her mother in a fire when she was young but had a perfectly happy childhood with her loving father. It comes as a shock to receive a letter informing her that her estranged mother died a few weeks ago. Hallie’s grief and confusion are compounded when her father passes away soon after. Determined to unearth the mystery of her own past, Hallie travels to the island where her mother had been living and where–though she has no memory of it–she spent her earliest years. Just creepy enough for a few shivers without being the stuff of nightmares, The Tale of Halcyon Crane is  a light, cool breeze of a book, perfect for summer reading.

Currently, I’m in the middle of two books by authors on our summer schedule: Imperfect Endings, by Zoe Carter, and The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want, by Garret Keizer. Carter’s book is an honest and intimate memoir of her mother’s decision to end her life after a long struggle with Parkinson’s Disease. Keizer writes about the history of noise and its often overlooked consequences. While very different in style and subject, both books are excellently written and captivating.

To wrap up, a teaser for three books that will be published in the coming months. Dennis Lehane fans will be thrilled to learn that he is bringing back Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro for his new mystery, Moonlight Mile (November). Revisiting the case that tore them apart twelve years before, Kenzie and Gennaro’s investigations put their lives and the life of the girl they’re searching for in grave danger. Though I felt this was missing some of the grittiness of previous books in the series, it’s good to be back on the case with these two Boston detectives.

I was privileged to have dinner with Joyce Hinnefeld a couple of years ago, when her novel In Hovering Flight was published. She is a lovely woman, and I was delighted to receive an advance copy of her new book, Stranger Here Below (October). In it, Hinnefeld introduces three generations of women, their individual strengths and fragility, and explores the sometimes tenuous bonds of friendship. This is an excellent book to share among sisters, mothers, daughters, and friends.

Finally, one for the YA crowd (though I highly recommend these books for adults, as well.) The Chaos Walking trilogy is the series I most expect and hope will get a big boost from the end of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy (the final installment, Mockingjay, arrives August 24). It shares some similar elements–a corrupted world, far removed from our own, in which two teenagers may be the last hope for humanity’s redemption–but is completely original in its characters and style. Beginning with The Knife of Never Letting Go, the reader journeys with Todd and Viola in search of hope. Todd was born on the planet called “New World,” and has grown up in a village where men’s (and animals’) thoughts are always “heard” by everyone around them and all of the women died long ago. Viola is a newcomer to the planet, ejected from a scout ship that preceded a larger ship bringing a new group of colonists to New World. Together, they are pitted against the cruel Mayor, who has plans to conquer New World and reshape society to his own wishes. You will quickly find yourself caring deeply about the characters that Patrick Ness has created and his pacing will put you on the edge of your seat as they battle against the Mayor as well as with their changing understanding of themselves and their world. The final installment, Monsters of Men, will be on shelves at the end of September, which means that if you haven’t had a chance to check out this series yet, you’ll be able to race through the books back to back, all the way to the thrilling conclusion.


1. Wendy Webb - September 8, 2010

Hello! I’m Wendy Webb, author of The Tale of Halcyon Crane. I’m just writing to say thanks so much for the great review! I’ve been on a book tour most of the summer and I so appreciate the support of booksellers, who have been handselling Halcyon and recommending it to reading groups. It’s really made a big difference, and I’m very grateful!

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