Friday, September 15, 2017

Dead Man's Bridge ~ Robert J. Mrazek

Mrazek, Robert J. Dead Man's Bridge. New York, NY: Crooked Lane Books, a division of Perseus Book Group. ISBN: 978-1683312697. $26.99 USD.

Another campus mystery that caught my eye was Dead Man's Bridge by Robert J. Mrazek, a series debut from Crooked Lane Books featuring a new character named Jake Cantrell.  I was not familiar with the author, but after reading Dead Man's Bridge, I am a new fan!

Jake Cantrell, a former soldier, has left the military under a cloud of suspicion, and the only job he can get is that of a campus security guard proffered by an old friend who is the President of the college. During Alumni weekend a former student is found hanging rather gruesomely from a bridge (the titular "Dead Man's Bridge).  Jake is persona non grata with the campus security chief, but his old friend asks him to look into the death quietly.  Using skills he honed in the miltary and contacts he knows from his undergraduate days on the campus, Jake discovers a revenge plot as well as a separate rather kinky blackmail situation to sort out.

All the elements of a great mystery are here: an interesting and slightly mysterious protagonist with a past, an unusual crime, great dialogue, episodes of violence intermixed with logical procedural narrative, and of course, a dog!  Great series debut, and I hope to read more Jake Cantrell mysteries in the future (that hopefully include the war dog, Bug)!

Shadow of the Lions ~ Christopher Swann

Swann, Christopher. 2017. Shadow of the Lions. New York, NY: Algonquin Books, an imprint of Workman Publishing Company. ISBN: 978-1616205003. $26.95 USD.

It took me a few tries, but when I finally got into Shadow of the Lions, I read it straight through.

 I love campus novels and that was what intrigued me about this title.  An author, Matthias Glass, whose life is imploding, takes a job as a teacher at his high school alma mater where years earlier his best friend Fritz inexplicably disappeared from campus, never to be seen again.  The author does a great job of describing the impact this tragedy had on the lives of Matthias and the other characters in the book.

There are several unexpected revelations that I did not see coming - always a plus! And the resolution of the book is extremely satisfying.  My only small criticism is that the pacing was a little off at times, which affected the flow of the novel. However, this is a debut and Mr. Swann will continue to hone his craft. Overall, it was a truly enjoyable read, and I became invested in the main characters and the outcome.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Perfect Stranger ~ Megan Miranda

Miranda, Megan. 2017. The Perfect Stranger. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. ISBN: 978-1501107993. $25.00 USD.

I was so impressed with Megan Miranda's adult fiction debut, All the Missing Girls, that I nominated it for the Texas Library Association Lariat Adult Fiction Reading List.  We were thrilled that Ms. Miranda was able to speak at our Author Luncheon in San Antonio in April.

With her second adult fiction title, The Perfect Stranger, there is definitely no "sophomore slump." As a matter of fact, I may even like this one better than the first!  As I was reading it, I felt like Gretel from the fairy tale following a trail of clues: except those clues led me into the dark forest of the unknown rather than into a safe harbor.

It is amazing how the author structures her story and drops bombshells in the narrative which take the reader into unexpected territory.  You have a somewhat unreliable narrator, but one you are rooting for; a series of crimes that you can't quite figure out; and forays into the past that shock you as they reveal truly unexpected plot twists.  The resolution is satisfying and consistent with the themes explored in story.  The Perfect Stranger is....well, perfect - and one of my favorites from last Spring. As someone who reads a LOT of books, I am truly excited to be able to recommend this one.

The Fortune Teller ~ Gwendolyn Womack

Womack, Gwendolyn. 2017. The Fortune Teller. New York, NY: Picador, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing. ISBN: 978-1250099778. $16.00 USD.

The Fortune Teller is one of my favorites of the year, so far!  It has many things going for it, and great appeal for librarians and bibliophiles, in particular.

Semele Cavnow is a rare manuscript expert who is sent to catalog the rare books and manuscripts of the late Marcel Broussard in Switzerland.  While working there, Semele discovers a rare manuscript that was not part of the original inventory, along with a note from Marcel, whom she never met, addressed to her specifically telling her to be careful and trust no one.  As she begins transcribing the manuscript, Semele discovers the story of the author, Ilona, the daughter of one of the highly respected Librarians in Alexandria, which dates the manuscript at over 2,000 years old - if it's not a hoax.  And, somehow, Semele's name is mentioned in the manuscript, which should be impossible.

As Semele continues transcribing, the story tells of subsequent owners of very special tarot cards that were supposedly created for an Oracle, and how they travelled over time and history, changing the lives of the owners and even history itself.  The present and the past are on a collision course;  Semele finds herself in danger and being watched, and wondering at her own unusual intuition which seems to be getting stronger.  Fast paced, filled with interesting historical details and enough suspense to keep the reader turning the pages, I predict that this book that will appeal to a wide variety of readers.  

The Garden of Small Beginnings ~ Abbi Waxman

Waxman, Abbi. 2017. The Garden of Small Beginnings. New York, NY: Berkley. ISBN 978-0399583582. $16.00 USD.

I absolutely loved this amazing book! The writing is terrific and the wry inner dialogue of the main character is wonderfully unique. Lillian Girvan is a young widow with two precocious little girls she is struggling to parent without a partner.  She is an artist and illustrator at a small publishing company, and spends her days illustrating, among other things, whale penises! When her boss asks her to attend a six week gardening class taught by a client, Lili recruits her sister Rachel and her two daughters to attend with her.  The teacher is a handsome Dutch man, who awakens an interest in Lili she thought long dead.

The author has created warm and engaging characters in the other members of the class, and the way they interact with each others' lives is such a delight. The chapters are divided between the story and small essays on how to grow various fruits and vegetables, and even the essays have a humorous touch. This is what I loved most about the book: in spite of the fact that many of the characters are struggling with serious personal issues in their lives, the author explores these realistically, yet with humor.  It's such a nice change from all the dark, depressing (or as one colleague says "wrist-slasher") books that are being published lately.  I hope to see more books like this one!