Jennifer Givhan’s Trinity Sight

Blackstone Publishing / Hardcover Publication Date, October 1, 2019 / Paperback Publication Date, October 13, 2020

A post-apocalyptic horror story?  Another Stephen King wannabe?  But, hey, as we know, there is only one Stephen King, EVER, and sometimes even Stephen King isn’t Stephen King.  Now I do not think that emulating the Master was Jennifer Givhan’s intention, but still, you know.  On the other hand, I never did fully grasp just what Ms. Givhan’s intentions were, though I know she had some.  It’s just that the formulaic nature of this genre kept shouting to be heard.  However, the lady does entertain and, as often as not, that’s quite enough.

Blinding flashes, an assumed nuclear incident, and, poof! . . . everyone’s gone.  Cars and homes abandoned like the Rapture.  Well, most everyone.   Calliope, a Ph.D. archaeologist and hugely pregnant with twins, begins that obligatory trek/journey/quest in search of missing family – her mother, husband, and son, Phoenix.  She is accompanied by the small Asian girl from next door, a six-year-old seer/clairvoyant/visionary, and, along the way they meet others wandering in the desert.  They’re joined by Amy who is delightful, my hands-down favorite, a heavily tattooed young lady working her way through college as an exotic dancer who, it so happens, can also fly a plane.  A plane will come in handy when those monstrous kachina dolls appear, and wouldn’t you know there’s a wee yellow one right over there.  Check, check, check, check, check, check, check, check!

But hold up!  Calliope needs a………a what, a circus?  No, silly, she needs a man.  With a rifle.  Handsome Native American physicist named Chance Guardian.  Now please put the appellation anvil away, Ms. Givhan, ‘cause we get it, but damn right and check anyway.  I hope he shows up for my apocalypse, but if he does I don’t want to be preggers, and I’ll just call him Cousin Bob.  So they’re off.  On Chance’s home reservation they discover that they had it backward all along.  Alternate realities, parallel universes, you know – of course, and check!

So is there any merit here, or am I just being a curmudgeon?  Both, I think, but for sure, I’m being a curmudgeon.  It’s way more fun that way.  While this first novel surely could be improved, that’s true more often than not, and this one keeps you reading.  Future plans, Ms. Givhan?  I’d like to see you give it another go.

Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by Blackstone Publishing via NetGalley. I would like to thank the publisher and the author for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Three by C.J. Tudor: The Burning Girls, The Hiding Place, and The Other People

Thanks to Covid-19 I’ve been in this house too damn long, and it’s cooooold outside anyway.  Read?  Well, of course, but nothing that would tax my brain, make me work, depress me, or worry me tucked up here safely in my cocoon.  No, sir.  It was just gonna be read and snack, read and snack, read and snack some more.  If that’s where you are too, then I’ve got three for you.  Got ‘em right here.   

As I poked about looking for something that met my exacting requirements, I cracked open mystery/thriller The Burning Girls, the latest by British author C.J. Tudor, and sha-zamm.  Sucked right on in.  Grabbed by the neck.  Ass over teakettle.  It was a done deal and finished all too soon.  What to do?  Read another C.J. Tudor.  And then another!  Now I haven’t got my hands on Ms. Tudor’s first novel The Chalk Man yet, but if I had I’m sure I’d have had four for you.  (That one received a couple “Best First” awards, so there you go.)

In order of titles above, a young British cleric is transferred to a remote village with an ancient chapel, a dismissed teacher gets a job in his hometown at the school he attended, and a man’s wife and daughter are murdered…..or not.  All three novels are stand-alones, and all have a supernatural element as well.  For me,  The Other People was the least successful of the three, but maybe I was just sated by then.  Now I know, I know, but Ms. Tudor puts you there, and her characters are wonderfully complex.  Nothing cheesy to speak of except, perhaps, your choice of snacks.  Plus Ms. Tudor may write fastest hooks in the business.  Uncannily so.  Once you start, you won’t turn back.  Fast, fun, and no calories.  Wish I could say the same for the snacks.  Enjoy your reads and your nom-noms.

Ann Napolitano’s Dear Edward

Just arrived in paperback on February 2, 2021 / Hardcover publication date: January 6, 2020 / Publisher: Random House / The Dial Press

Now here’s a thing.  I want you to read this lovely novel, but I don’t want to tell you about it.  Well, no, I do, but my fear is that it would be so easy to ruin.  You see, Chapter 1 introduces the Adler family – mother, father, two sons.  One is a teen; the other a pre-teen.  A nice ordinary family moving from New York to LA, just diddling along, and you’re wondering whether the whole thing is going to stay ordinary.  Not enough to hang a verdict on so far.  OK, then Chapter 2.  As shattering as a rock slide.  The story is aftermath.  It is for those who remain to dig for daylight, clear the rubble, choke on the dust, to find a way

You will love this story, and you must discover it whole, not through the bits and pieces that I or anyone else could dole out.  No, it is not a literary marvel and doesn’t aspire to be.  In fact, it strikes me as possibly abutting that fuzzy place we’ve come to call young adult fiction.  A matter of opinion, I guess, and who cares.  It is splendid, and why not?  A wonderful story, skillfully told, with fully-formed characters you’ll invest in.  Whether you’re looking ahead at your life, fighting the good fight, or looking back, what is a life worth?  What do we make of the singular life we’re each given?  I put everything aside for Dear Edward, an absorbing and provocative interlude, and I thank you, Ms. Napolitano, for Edward and Shay, Lacy and John, Beso, Principal Arundhi and the ferns.  And for the 191 silver birds pictured in my mind.

Released last week in paperback, Dear Edward deserves a place in your TBR pile, preferably on top.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Random House Publishing Group / Random House – The Dial Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Tracy Chevalier’s A Single Thread

Hardcover Publication Date: September 17, 2019 / Paperback Publication Date: October 6, 2020 / Publisher: Penguin Group/Viking

Winchester, UK, between the wars.  Life goes on as families continue to grieve their lost sons, women live without men by their sides, and, far, far away, the Nazis build their power base in Germany for another go at world domination.  If you only know Tracy Chevalier from Girl With a Pearl Earring, then you’ll find this quite different.  The setting and focus brings the work of Irish writer Maeve Binchy to mind, but without Binchy’s warmth, optimism and overall cheerfulness.  The lives of ordinary folks, yes, but more forward looking, a more realistic tone, and a glimmer of a changing world view.  You have the good, the bad and the (at the time) still frowned upon; for example, there’s a lesbian couple.  Some are incensed, there is talk, but there are some who accept, who don’t tut and turn away.  Change. 

Violet Speedwell lost her brother and fiancé in WWI; at thirty-eight, she is a spinster, and her bitter mother makes life difficult, so Violet sets out to make a life on her own in Winchester.  Spinsterhood was a dreaded status in those days, and it’s tough going.  Violet, however, learns to stand up for herself, and she gets by.   Winchester Cathedral is the center of life in town, and Violet visits frequently to enjoy its history and beauty.  In doing so, she’s fascinated by the embroidered kneelers and cushions in the church and joins the Society of Cathedral Broderers (spelled correctly) to learn this ancient art.  Meets a gentleman, too, a bell ringer, an expert in change ringing.  (Have you read The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers?  A Lord Peter Wimsey mystery based on change ringing.)  And here is where the Tracy Chevalier we know comes in.  She can take little known subjects such as needlepoint and change ringing and expound ‘til the cows come home . . . and you will be enthralled.  I do not lie.  Even the change ringing is clearly explained, and that stuff is as arcane as Egyptian embalming methods. Probably more so – though much noisier.  Violet’s story winds round and about these skills, but the story itself is in the people, people living serenely on the cusp of another cataclysm and a changed world.

More of a woman’s read, but well-written and rewarding.  Comfortable, but not cozy, with an undercurrent of foreboding.  Ancient skills juxtaposed against the coming of the modern era.  I enjoyed Ms. Chevalier’s latest and was over the moon when I came upon this word oddity – fylfot.  A fylfot, or fylfots if you have multiples of them.  A word so cute it looks as if it ought to wiggle like a puppy.  An Anglo-Saxon word for an ancient symbol used in many cultures and religions for light, life and good fortune.  We no longer see it as that because, you see, during this era of change between the wars, the fylfot became the swastika.  Symbolism can be a bitch.  How far you have fallen, fylfot.

Craig Johnson’s Land of Wolves

Hardcover Publication Date: September 17, 2029 / Paperback Publication Date: August 4, 2020 / Publisher: PENGUIN GROUP / Viking

Another in the excellent Longmire mystery series, and let’s just cut to the chase.  That’s a damn good thing, the series and this book.  Sorry to say that I’ve missed a few episodes, and evidently Walt Longmire went through some serious stuff while I was away, but Walt and I go way back, so we took up like it was just yesterday.  The mystique of wolves, a mysterious pest of a woman in a Tibetan cap, Basque shepherds and herding dogs, Longmire’s own monstrous canine Dog, the rugged beauty of Wyoming and an ailing, but still determined Walt Longmire.  Yep.  Temperature was in the 90’s here when I read this, but I was wearing a fleece lined jacket, riding in a 4X4 pick-up through the snowy mountains of Wyoming with Dog in the back.  And there are braying mules, too.  Every good story is improved by a jackass or two.  Yep.  So true.  If you don’t know Longmire, jump in.  If you only know Longmire from the TV series, you ain’t nothing but a city slicker.  Take your Longmire straight – from the page.  Real men read.

Curdella Forbes’ A Tall History of Sugar

45837654. sy475
Hardcover Publication Date: October 1, 2019 / Publisher: Akashic Books

A Tall History of Sugar delivers a tall order of beautiful language, a giddy, glorious and, yes, intoxicating order.  Just as I wrote this, one tiny example came to mind, two words only: “ploughing darkness”.  Dark, but lovely, isn’t it?  How recognizable to any of us afflicted by the human condition.  Hard work, that ploughing, and usually fruitless.  Next time I find myself cultivating my particular patch in the “slough of despond” I’ll know what to call it. 

OK, OK, this intoxicating novel of modern day Jamaica.  Ms. Forbes’ enchanting words took me to Jamaica right away, a sugar rush of language and culture.  Growing sugar cane is and has been pervasive in Jamaican history:  plantations enriching the British Empire, labor supply feeding off the slave trade, the black smoke of cane fires blanketing the island to this day.  And so begins the love story of Moshe and Arrienne .  

When newly born, Moshe (Moses) was found abandoned in the sea grapes and taken in by childless Rachel and Noah.  Through some defect of birth or, perhaps, his mysterious parentage, he is strikingly different and will be all his life.  His skin bleeds at a touch and is white as milk, but his facial features are those of a black man.  One eye is blue, the other brown, and his hair is a combination of blond and straight, black and curly.  Moshe and Arrienne meet as school children.  She is a growing beauty and dark as midnight.  She’s also fierce, practiced in tae kwan do and readily assumes the role of protector and constant companion to MosheShe thinks of the two of them as twins or, sometimes, “nottwins”, and they can communicate without speaking.  As adults, they lose this ability and are estranged, but there remains an inexorable pull, a need for each other. 

While Arrienne is out-spoken, quick to anger and fully human, Moshe, to me, was more of a being than a person – perhaps (probably?) purposely.  I usually step lightly around symbolism because you can always find something if you want to, but Moshe’s character struck me as Christ-like.  Not without sin, but tormented and stoic, paying for something, bleeding.  Hmmm, well………you’ll have to come to your own conclusions.  Ms. Forbes is a writer-to-the-bone, and I won’t presume to speak for her. Intoxicating, yes, and as lyrical as Jamaican patois.  Sorry, I’ve rambled on too long, but it’s my word hangover talking.  Speaking of patois (way to segue), I was intrigued and went online to explore.  Guess what?  There are lessons!  Some say it is a language, and others call it a dialect, but, no matter, it’s beautiful – as is Ms. Forbes’ moving book.  Worth the word hangover.

Katie Lowe’s The Furies

Hardcover Publication Date: October 8, 2019 / Expected Paperback Publication Date: September 15, 2020 / Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

An exclusive British girl’s school has an eerie history, and I was expecting (hoping for, actually) witches.  Haven’t done witches in such a long, long time and was not in the mood for anything that smacked of reality.  Well, it’s not witches– exactly, nor is it reality – exactly.  The school is Elm Hollow, and, yes, there were witch trials there in the seventeenth century.  As a result, Margaret Boucher, the school’s founder was burned on the spot where the wych elm now stands, and there have been rumors of sorcery at Elm Hollow ever since.  OK, witches, maybe.  The reality?  Modern day adolescents.  Lest you’re starting to think Harry Potterish, oh, no, it is not.  These kids are the good, the bad, and the ugly:  drugs, drinking, sex, spite, revenge, gossip.  And sorcery?  Sort of. 

Violet, the narrator and central figure, is the new girl and something of a loner who is drawn into an existing clique.  There’s wealthy Alexandra whose mother studies the occult; Grace, the academic one; and Robin — daring, artsy with piercings and hair dyed a garish red.  There was Emily, also, but she’s disappeared, feared to be the victim of a predator.  Violet is brought into the group by Robin, and, while she has doubts and wonders if she is replacing Emily, she wants so much to belong.  All four are the chosen acolytes of Annabelle, a gifted teacher, who leads them in an extracurricular class focused on women throughout history who have used force and fury to right wrongs as only women can.  Leaders, followers, wannabes – and sorcery.  But is it really?  More accurately, maybe it’s just experimentation with sorcery – an adolescent fascination.   Oh, yes, to be sure, there are five deaths with links to these four, a range of deaths from gruesome to bizarre and one that is mysteriously serene.  Possibly murders, maybe accidents, or perhaps natural causes.  Is it coincidence that these are linked to the girls?  Could be.  Or sorcery.  Let’s put it this way, if it’s not sorcery, it’s not for lack of trying because these girls have secrets to hide and scores to settle.  A pretty good read, this, fierce and entertaining, and you’ll be glad to know that, like most beloved old school traditions, Elm Hollow’s is in good hands and will continue passing to future generations of girls.  

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

BLOG TOUR! Alex George’s The Paris Hours

The Paris Hours by Alex George

Publication Date:  May 5, 2020

Publisher:  Flatiron Books

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for The Paris Hours!  Check out my thoughts and ruminations on the book, as well as an excerpt, below.

What do an Armenian puppeteer, a down-on-his-luck artist, a French journalist with dreams of America, and Marcel Proust’s former housekeeper all have in common?  At first you’ll think “absolutely nothing”, but oh, you would be wrong.

Author Alex George’s newest offering rambles unhurriedly through a single day in the City of Lights in the time between the Wars, introducing us to this foursome of Parisians (both native and not), each with a quiet purpose, each unknown to the others.  Armenian Souren Balakian is a refugee, who scrapes out an existence giving free puppet shows in a local park each day for coins thrown in a suitcase.  The quintessential starving artist, Guillaume Blanc, needs a big sale from one of his works in order to pay off an unsavory mobster.  Journalist Jean-Paul Maillard, who pines for his wife and child, is perhaps the most melancholy of the quartet (although Souren could give him a run for his money there); he’s constantly looking for his daughter but will he ever find her?  Finally, Camille Clermont embarks on city-wide search for a lost journal belonging to Proust and harboring a black secret.  And while our protagonists are seemingly ordinary folks, they also rub elbows in Paris with Gertude Stein, Josephine Baker, Ernest Hemingway, Mr. Proust, and host of other only slightly-lesser celebrity lights.

The characters are the thing here, and these characters are Alex George’s strength.  As the day unfolds, stories and histories are revealed, and we come to know and understand Camlle, Jean-Paul, Souren and Guillaume a little bit better with each passing page.  This is a novel on a constant, slow burn and, if you’re looking for a quick payoff, you won’t find it here.  Kindling is steadily and masterfully thrown on the smoldering embers of each individuals’ story until they all come together in one blazing conflagration.  This is a novel that rewards patience.

Many thanks to Flatiron Books and Cat Kenney for inviting me to be a part of the blog tour and providing me with a review copy of The Paris Hours.  Many more thanks are due to Alex George for creating this lovely story and sharing it with us.

During these difficult days, it’s more important than ever to support our small and local businesses.  If you’re so inclined, you can click here to purchase this title from your local indie bookstore.  And check out the excerpt below!

1
Stitches

THE ARMENIAN WORKS BY the light of a single candle. His tools lie in front of him on the table: a spool of cotton, a square of fabric, haberdasher’s scissors, a needle.

The flame flickers, and shadows leap across the walls of the tiny room, dancing ghosts. Souren Balakian folds the fabric in half, checks that the edges align exactly, and then he picks up the scissors. He feels the resistance beneath his fingers as the steel blades bite into the material. He always enjoys this momentary show of defiance before he gives the gentlest of squeezes, and the scissors cut through the doubled-up fabric. He eases the blades along familiar contours, working by eye alone. He has done this so many times, on so many nights, there is no need to measure a thing. Torso, arms, neckline—this last cut wide, to accommodate the outsized head.

When he has finished, there are two identical shapes on the table in front of him. He sweeps the unused scraps of cloth onto the floor, and picks up the needle and thread. After the sundering, reconstitution. Holding the two pieces of material in perfect alignment, he pushes the tip of the needle through both layers of fabric, and pulls the thread tight. He works with ferocious deliberation, as if it is his very life that he is stitching back together. He squints, careful to keep the stitches evenly spaced. When he is finished, he breaks the thread with a sharp twist of his fingers and holds the garment up in the half-light. A small grunt of satisfaction.

Night after night Souren sits at this bench and sews a new tunic. By the end of the day it will be gone, a cloud of gray ash blowing in the wind, and then he will sit down and create another.

He lays the completed costume on the work surface and stands up. He surveys the ranks of sightless eyes that stare unblinking into the room. Rows of hooks have been hammered into the wall. A wooden hand puppet hangs from every one. There are portly kings and beautiful princesses. There are brave men with dangerous eyes, and a haggard witch with warts on her ugly chin. There are cherubic children, their eyes too wide and innocent for this motley group. There is a wolf.

This ragtag crowd is Souren’s family now.

He unhooks a young boy called Hector and carries him to the table. He pulls the newly sewn tunic over Hector’s head. He turns the puppet toward him and examines his handiwork. Hector is a handsome fellow, with a button nose and rosy cheeks. The tunic fits him well. The puppet performs a small bow and waves at him.

“Ah, Hector,” whispers Souren sadly. “You are always so happy to see me, even when you know what is to come.” He looks up at the clock on the wall. It is a few hours past midnight. The new day has already begun.

Each evening Souren battles sleep for as long as he can. He works long into the night, applying fresh coats of paint to the puppets and sewing new clothes for them by candlelight. He stays at his workbench until his eyes are so heavy that he can no longer keep them open. But there is only so long he can fight the inevitable. His beloved puppets cannot protect him from the demons that pursue him through the darkest shadows of the night.

His dreams always come for him in the end.

2

A Rude Awakening

RAT-A-TAT-TAT.

Guillaume Blanc sits up in his bed, his heart smashing against his ribs, his breath quick, sharp, urgent. He stares at the door, waiting for the next angry tattoo.

The whispered words he heard through the door scream at him now: Three days.

Rat-a-tat-tat.

His shoulders slump. There is nobody knocking, not this time. The noise is coming from somewhere closer. Guillaume turns and squints through the window above the bed. The first blush of early morning sunlight smears the sky. From up here on the sixth floor, the rooftops of the city stretch out beneath him, a glinting cornucopia of slate and glass, a tapestry of cupolas and towers. There is the culprit: a woodpecker, richly plumed in blue and yellow, perched halfway up the window frame. It is staring beadily at the wood, as if trying to remember what it is supposed to do next.

Rat-a-tat-tat.

It is early, too early for anything good.

The shock of adrenaline subsides enough for Guillaume to register that his temples are pounding. He rolls over, spies a glass of cloudy water on the floor next to the bed, and drinks it thirstily. He rubs a dirty palm against his forehead. An ocean of pain to drown in. An empty wine bottle lies on its side in the middle of the small room. He stole it from the back of Madame Cuillasse’s kitchen cupboard when he staggered in last night. It was covered in dust and long forgotten, not even good enough for her coq au vin, but by then Guillaume was too drunk to care.

Rat-a-tat-tat.

It feels as if the woodpecker is perched on the tip of Guillaume’s nose and is jabbing its sharp little beak right between his eyes. It’s typical of his luck, he reflects. The bird has no business in the dirty, narrow streets of Montmartre. It should be flying free with its brothers and sisters in the Bois de Boulogne, hammering joyfully away at tree trunks, rather than attacking the window frame of Guillaume’s studio. And yet here it is.

Rat-a-tat-tat.

The woodpecker’s head is a ferocious blur, then perfectly still again. What goes through its head, Guillaume wonders, during those moments of contemplative silence? Is the woodpecker asking itself: who am I, really, if I am not pecking wood? Am I, God forbid, just a bird?

Three days.

Guillaume lets out a small moan. There are lightning bolts erupting behind his eyes. He casts his mind back to the previous night. He was wandering through Montmartre, anxiously trying to outpace his problems, when he had seen Emile Brataille sitting alone in the bar at the end of his street. Brataille is an art dealer who spends most of his time at the zinc of the Closerie des Lilas, schmoozing with collectors and artists, striking deals, and skimming his fat commission off every painting he sells. He has no business in Montmartre anymore: all the painters whose work hangs on the walls of his palatial gallery on Boulevard Raspail have left Guillaume’s quartier for the leafy boulevards of Montparnasse, where the wine is better, the oysters fatter, and the women more beautiful. Guillaume pushed open the door and slid onto the chair next to Brataille.

The alcohol lingers sluggishly in his veins. How much had they drunk, in the end?

After they were three or four carafes to the good, Emile Brataille made his mournful confession: he’d come to Montmartre to declare his love for Thérèse, but she wanted nothing to do with him. And so here he was, drowning his sorrows.

Thérèse is a prostitute who works at the corner of Rue des Abbesses and Rue Ravignan, next to Le Chat Blanc. Guillaume knows her, albeit not professionally: he has painted her many times. Lubricated by the wine, he embellished this acquaintance into a devoted friendship, and suggested to Brataille that he might be able to intercede on his behalf. At this, the art dealer began to weep drunken tears of gratitude. How can I ever repay you? he asked. Guillaume scratched his chin. I don’t suppose you know any rich, art-loving Americans, he said.

Brataille began to laugh.

 

Saint X: A Novel

Release Date:  Today, February 18, 2020 / Available here from your local indie bookstore!

There are two sides to everything.  Simple folk wisdom that we use and hear so much it’s almost meaningless.  Nevertheless, it is still wisdom.  And it is this universal dichotomy that Alexis Schaitkin examines in her excellent novel Saint X.  Further, where I am today is rainy, foggy and gloomy, just nasty, so, heck yeah, let’s go to a Caribbean island.  Saint X itself is an island with two sides.  There’s the beautiful side where the resorts are, and the not so beautiful where the islanders go about their lives.  The beautiful side is still relatively unspoiled, not overrun by tourists, so the Thomases congratulate themselves on their choice of vacation spot on Indigo Bay.  Their two daughters, college freshman Alison and seven-year-old Clair, are of two minds about the whole thing.  Pretty, vivacious Alison wants to party.  Clair is a rather odd child, pale and awkward, an observer.  On the last morning of their vacation, Clair wakes her parents and tells them that Alison is gone.  Just gone.  Her body is found sometime later under a beautiful waterfall on an uninhabited island overrun by goats.  And two black men employed by the resort, Edwin and Clive, are suspected.  She partied with them.

Ah, so it’s a murder mystery then?  No, no, it most definitely is not. Certainly it is reminiscent of the famous Natalee Holloway disappearance on the island of Aruba.  In this case, we know that there is a death, but, as in Natalee’s case, we don’t know if it’s a murder.  Unquestionably there’s a mystery, and there are bereft parents, searches, law enforcement, news media, interrogations, witnesses, all that.  However, the depth and unquestionable quality of this book places it well above a “murder mystery” in the customary sense of that term.  Two sides.  Heads, tails.  Concave, convex.  Beauty, squalor.  Edwin and Clive.  Alison and Clair.

Clair is left to grieve and come to terms for the rest of her life – her shining star of an older sister, the beautiful, accomplished girl who snuck out at night to party, drink and dance with Edwin and Clive.  “My sister was an innocent, blameless in her horrific fate.  And it was all her fault.”  Edwin and Clive, too, must start over, and Clive moves to New York where Clair pursues him and, ultimately, develops an odd relationship with this man, built on both suspicion and trust.  “I had to find a way to understand how truth and untruth make each other.”  Saint X  – truly excellent fiction.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Celadon Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

M.T. Edvardsson’s A Nearly Normal Family

  Now available in hardcover from Celadon Books / Due in paperback on June 30, 2020.  Support your local indie bookstore with your purchase or pre-order!

Welcome to Scandinavia – again (and again).  Sweden, in this case, but not just another Scandinavian mystery novel.  Yes, there’s a murder, and no, we’re not sure who the murderer is, but the mystery is not the story.  The murder may be the reason we have a story, but it is not the story.  The Sandells, the nearly normal family, now there’s the story.  Adam Sandell is a minister in the Church of Sweden, and his wife Ulrika is an attorney.  Daughter Stella is turning eighteen, finishing school and dreaming of traveling on her own in Asia.  Always a headstrong girl, she’s highly intelligent, but likes control and is quick to anger.  Stella loves her parents but is a challenging daughter, and as a friend, she is loyal to a fault.  She stands firm in her individuality, refusing to be anyone other than her unique self.  And she stands accused of murder.

Adam and Ulrika Sandell love each other deeply.  They love Stella as only parents can, but each relates to her quite differently, and their reactions in the face of the charges against her are markedly different as well.  A pastor and an attorney and all that is presumed to entail:  morality, ethics, beliefs, legal and religious standards, personal integrity.  Firm convictions and principles.  Holding fast on higher ground.  Really?  Is it humanly possible?  In these circumstances?  I’d guess so; I’d certainly hope so.  Is it possible for this particular pair, though?

As robust a cast of characters as you’ll find, and as flawed as human beings come.  None will elicit your complete sympathy throughout.  The murder victim himself is pretty despicable, and, in fact, I’m not sure Mr. Edvardsson could have pulled his concept off if the victim had been worthy of our concern.   So then . . . are some less-worthy people more worthy of murder?  Interesting question.  Here’s another:  Did Stella kill him?  You know, I almost felt like I became a character in this book because there are decisions to be made, big, crucial ones; and so many people are in over their heads.  And that’s where you come in.  Calmer, unbiased heads must take a look.  Readers, in all your infinite wisdom, I guess it’s up to you.  Enjoy Sweden.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Celadon Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.