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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Review: 'The Temptation of Forgiveness'

The Temptation of Forgiveness
By Donna Leon
Crime fiction
March 2018
Atlantic Monthly Press
ISBN: 978-0802127754

The lens through which one views something can be affected by many factors -- including one's experience, who one trusts, where one was born and grew up, one's gender. Each of these lenses plays a role in The Temptation of Forgiveness, in which Guido Brunetti has to grapple with decisions that greatly affect the lives of others.

Brunetti's extremely talented colleague, Signora Elettra, is troubled by internal reports of leaks. Usually unflappable, she is bothered by the talk and, unusually for her, the ongoing office politics. At the same time, a colleague of Brunetti's wife comes to see him. Reluctantly, she admits she is worried about her teenage son. She has decided he is using drugs and the police should do something about it.

Then a man is found in the night near a bridge with a horrendous head wound. His recovery is doubtful. Brunetti realizes the victim is the husband of his wife's fellow professor.

Was the attack on him related to his wife's concerns for their son? With no other apparent motives, and a wife who isn't forthcoming with information, Brunetti sets out to see what he can discover.

Leon uses these events, and what would appear to be a logical progression in a police investigation, to delve into far more subtle affairs. Claudia Griffoni, Brunetti's esteemed fellow officer, is from Naples and sees things from a different angle than her two male Venetian colleagues. Brunetti and Griffoni come close to arguing about another case. They don't agree about a Muslim father who killed his daughter when he thought she had been carrying on with boys, and who now says he wants to die after discovering he was wrong. Without making a judgment call as the author, Leon instead shows all the different ways the two officers look at the situation.

This idea of different perspectives extend to both Brunetti's home, where he is re-reading Antigone, and to the case at hand. The classic play has Brunetti wondering if the lead character is right or wrong -- it depends on whether one views the king's decree as absolute or whether honoring family matters most.

When Brunetti, Griffoni and their colleague Vianello put their heads together, some will jump to conclusions. Some will think they are using logic when they are only able to view the situation in one way. In the end, Brunetti will find his way to a solution, but whether he makes the right decisions at the end could be questioned. It all depends on what lens one uses to view the situation.

This is a rich, nuanced and deeply engaging story. Donna Leon continues to present a beloved city, even if the lenses are not rose-colored, and characters who continue to surprise even long-time readers.

©2018 All Rights Reserved Review and posted with permission

Monday, July 16, 2018

Review: 'Trail of Lightning'

Trail of Lightning
By Rebecca Roanhorse
June 2018
Saga Press
ISBN: 978-1534413504

In a post-apocalyptic American West, in which most of the landscape and civilization have disappeared after the Big Water and the Energy Wars, a young woman comes of age and into her powers as a monsterslayer.

Maggie is Diné, Navajo. She is alone and determined to remain that way. Those she loves have either been horrifically killed or left her. Her mentor deserting her weighs her down. Neighání is an immortal hero. But even he appeared disturbed at Maggie’s ability, and led her to believe she is as much a monster as those she hunts.

After months of being holed up alone in a single wide, she is called to try to rescue a young girl from a monster, who snatched her from home and ran up a mountain. The people who are desperate enough to seek her help are afraid of her. Maggie does little to dispel that fear, even during bargaining for payment if she prevails. Like everything else in Maggie’s life, she is successful but at a great cost. And her prevailing is likely to be misunderstood.

Back home, Coyote awaits her and sets her off on a quest. She goes to Tah, an elder Diné who once saved her life, for advice. He sends her off with his grandson, Kai, who is studying to be a Medicine Man, whether Maggie wants him or not.

The twists and turns in the relationships that take place are as exciting as the action in the adventure of the quest. There are other characters introduced to be intrigued by and to care about. And there are repercussions that await in the second book in the series.

The world-building in this, Roanhorse’s debut novel, is excellent. One reason for the strength of the world-building is the foundation of the Dinétah. The word usually means the homeland of the Diné, but it also can refer to being among the people. The concept, this being among, imbues every page. 

The world-building also serves as the setting for compelling, complex characters with more to be discovered about them. Storm of Locusts is the second book, to be published in April. (Just don’t read the preview information; it contains spoilers.)

©2018 All Rights Reserved Review and posted with permission

Friday, December 22, 2017

Review: 'Earthly Remains'

©2017 All Rights Reserved

Earthly Remains
By Donna Leon
Crime Fiction
April 2017
Atlantic Monthly Press
ISBN: 978-0802126474

To protect a younger colleague from saying something he shouldn't in a case with political implications, Commissario Guido Brunetti fakes a heart condition. To his surprise, he is advised at the hospital to take some time off to recuperate in Donna Leon's 26th novel in the series, Earthly Remains. Brunetti realizes he should take a step away from his work.

His wife's family holdings include a villa on one of the largest islands in the laguna. There, he connects with an older man who knew Brunetti's father and who takes him rowing in a boat he built himself. Brunetti and Davide Casati quickly form one of those easy-going male friendships that is respectful of the other's privacy. Casati, the villa's caretaker, spends much of his time rowing and tending to beehives located throughout the laguna. He mourns his wife, who suffered before dying of cancer, and spends some time with his daughter and her family. But it is the rowing, the bees and the mourning that occupy most of Casati's time and heart.

It is the death of bees at several hives that appears to be a tipping point for Casati. He tells Brunetti his wife's death is his fault and he is going to go talk to her. Casati disappears.

In tracing Casati's life backward from the time he left a factory and became a caretaker and beekeeper, Brunetti encounters other people who together weave a story of legacy. When someone leaves this life, what will be his earthly remains? What of the earth will remain? As Casati asks Brunetti, "Do you think somme of the things we do can never be forgiven?"

Leon has a light touch when bringing conclusions into the story. It is the questioning, and the wanting to consider the possible answers to the questions, that form the strong underpainting in her work.

As our hero ponders:

Brunetti had spent much of his reading life amidst the minds and convictions of people who had lived thousands of years ago, and he had learned not to laugh at their ideas but to try to understand why they thought the way they did. After all, his own world lived in constant discovery of its own ignorance.

The contrast in characters, their motives and their fates is fascinating and provokes curiosity. Seeing the choices each character made in the past, and how it has impacted their present and the future of others, is one of the most rewarding aspects of Earthly Remains.

The most rewarding aspect, however is the time spent with Brunetti and Paola, Brunetti's colleagues and the Brunetti library.

©2017 All Rights Reserved and republished here with permission

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Sunday Sentence: Donna Leon

As inspired by Fobbit and Brave Deeds author David Abrams at The Quivering Pen, the best sentence(s) I read this week, presented without further context or commentary:

Grief lies inside us like a land mine: heavy footsteps will pass it by safely, while others, even those as light as air, will cause it to explode.

-- Donna Leon, Earthly Remains

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Review: 'Don't Let Go'

Don't Let Go
By Harlan Coben
Suspense Fiction
October 2017
Dutton Books
ISBN: 978-0525955115

Nap Dumas has overcome heartache in his life -- his mother was never around, his beloved father has died. In between those two events, his twin brother was killed when they were seniors in high school and the love of his young life disappeared. In the years since, Nap became a cop and is an investigator for the county where he grew up.

The past is about to catch up with him when two cops from out of state show up at his door. A cop in their own town was killed. He was a guy Nap went to high school with, but that's not why they came. It's because a set of prints he put into the system years ago got a hit when they were processing the case. The prints belong to the girl who captured his heart and vanished when they all were in school.

From there, the action never stops in Harlan Coben's latest suspense novel. Old friends, old rumors and new perspectives on what Nap thought he knew come together masterfully. Who Nap is, who he was and who he could become are an important part of the story. This becomes as integral to the story as solving the mystery. As a bonus, an old favorite makes an appearance.

Coben says that two rumors he grew up with turned out to both be true. They certainly work together well in Don't Let Go. They also show that secrets aren't really secrets in a small town. And if someone doesn't hide the truth from himself, he can find a way to reconcile past and future.

©2017 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Review and reprinted with permission

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Review: 'All the Crooked Saints'

All the Crooked Saints
By Maggie Stiefvater
YA Fiction
October 2017
ISBN: 978-0545930802

Being a saint isn't easy, as too many members of the Sorio family know. There's not only the granting of miracles, there's the aftermath when the recipient has to figure out what the miracle means and what to do for the second miracle to take place. Because it takes both miracles before a pilgrim can move on.

For the saint and family, that means not interferring lest their own darkness appear. When a new pilgrim seeking a miracle, and a young man who just wants a truck to start a business, show up at the Sorio outpost in remote Bicho Raro, Colorado, in the 1960s, it's going to be harder for all of the Sorios to not become involved.

In Maggie Stiefvater's magical new novel, All the Crooked Saints, the Sorios have known for generations that helping a pilgrim get to the second step of a miracle, after the saint performs the first miracle, is dangerous to the pilgrim and themselves. As a result, their little settlement is overrun with pilgrims who haven't found the solution, from a bride whose dress is covered in butterflies and who weeps rivers of sadness, to twins entangled by a snake, to a padre with a animal head.

But Pete and Tony, the new guys in town, set in motion changes that cannot be stopped. Pete has a hole in his heart but it is an organ filled with kindness and determination. He works harder than anyone, and falls in love with the desert. The desert, in return, loves him back. Tony is a DJ making a name for himself but cannot bear being stared at any longer. He is in search of a miracle.

The current saint is quiet Daniel. His two beloved cousins are Beatriz, the tinkerer who works mechanical wonders, and Joaquin, an amateur DJ and weaver of tales. The trio drive through the desert at night so Joaquin can broadcast via the pirate radio station Beatriz created. The station exists in the back of the truck Pete was promised by a distant relative.

Although miracles that finish the quest of pilgrims are in short supply when the novel begins, the meeting of the determination of Pete and Tony with the traditions and family heritage of the Sorios results in a story filled with magic realism, hope, love and problems that were decades in the making. Stefvater has a beautiful way of using hyperbole to create the world of the Sorios, to enrich the characterizations and to make everyone's quest meaningful.

The novel is marketed for teens, but it is a one that anyone who loves fables and family stories should miss. All the Crooked Saints is a beautifully elegant story that can make a reader's heart ache, and sing.

©2017 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Review and reprinted with permission

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sunday Sentence: 'The Essex Serpent'

As inspired by Fobbit and Brave Deeds author David Abrams at The Quivering Pen, the best sentences I've read this week, presented without context or commentary:

Had it always been here -- this marvelous black earth in which she sank to her ankles, this coral-colored fungus frilling the branches at her feet? Had birds always sung? Had the rain always this light touch, as if she might inhabit it?

... sometimes I think we must be walking on shoals of bodies without realizing it and all the earth's a graveyard.

-- Sarah Perry, The Essex Serpent