Archive for the ‘family secrets’ Tag

Cold Crime   Leave a comment

 

The Ice Princess (Fjällbacka Series #1)

Camilla Lackberg’s The Ice Princess is my recent discovery in Scandinavian crime genre. She’s touted as Sweden’s version of Agatha Christie. While I might not go that far, I did enjoy the mystery set in Fjallbacka, a Swedish fishing village turned tourist community north of Goteborg.

It’s no surprise that within the first few pages a body, an apparent suicide, is discovered. The twists come in the form of small town connections. Erica, the second (living) person on the scene is a childhood friend of the victim, Alex. The two had lost touch with one another long ago, but Erica has fond memories of their friendship.

Erica, an author of biographies, is asked by Alex’s parents to write what amounts to an expanded obituary. They are convinced Alex did not kill herself. The more Erica learns of her estranged friend, the less likely it seems that Alex would have taken her own life.

Plenty of characters populate Lackborg’s novel, and surprisingly few are extraneous. Besides Erica, a major player is Patrik, a local police officer. They, too, had known each other as kids. As a boy, Patrik was enthralled by Erica. Alex’s death brings them together in more ways than one.

Lackberg doesn’t rely on the mystery; she includes romance, domestic violence and long-held secrets. The result is an engaging story that moves at a comfortable pace. It’s not necessarily a rapid-page turner, but is likely to keep you reading later at night than you might like.

The Ice Princess
Four Bookmarks
Pegasus Books, 2010
393 pages

Opposites Do Attract   Leave a comment

Rainbow Rowell’s story of young love overshadowed by harsh realities is humorous, haunting, and hopeful. Alliteration aside, Rowell’s Eleanor & Park is a study in contrasts and seems to prove that opposites do attract.

The omniscient narrator alternates between the couple. Although this approach doesn’t establish distinct voices, the characters are well-defined. Bits and pieces of Eleanor’s unhappy home life are slowly revealed while suggesting impending misfortune. Park, on the other hand, has two loving parents and lives next door to his grandparents. Eleanor is the new girl in school. She’s overweight, has bright red, unruly hair and dresses in a way that only the addition of neon could attract more attention. Park isn’t Mr. Popularity, but he does straddle the line between acceptance and rebuff. He’s part Asian, dresses all in black, but has known the kids in his high school all his life. When Eleanor sits next to him on the bus, he’s embarrassed, but friendship, then romance slowly, oh so slowly, begins to emerge.

Among Rowell’s themes are bullying and abuse; these create tension in the novel. The sense of something going awry is palpable. Yet, so are the more positive aspects of emerging love and parental concern. References to Shakespearean tragedy add a sense of foreboding; nonetheless, this is a tale dependent on hope. The title characters are different, likeable, and prove that appearances aren’t everything. It’s unfortunate they live in world where extreme differences aren’t always appreciated and where it’s easy to hide dangerous secrets.

Eleanor & Park
Four Bookmarks
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013
325 pages

Food Filled With TMI   3 comments

partciularsadness

Aimee Bender’s second novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, is quirky but glum. The premise follows Rose, the young narrator, and her ability to discern people’s emotions through the food they prepare. This is in stark contrast to the concept that cooking and eating meals are meant to be enjoyed and shared. Poor Rose must develop a strategy to avoid knowing more than she cares or wants, but, of course, she also has to eat.

It doesn’t help that Rose’s family is on the eccentric side to begin with. Lane, her mother, is flighty. And, as Rose deduces from her mother’s cooking, Lane is also very unhappy. Rose’s father is distant and professional. Her brother, Joe, is a genius void of social skills, with an enigma of his own. Despite the food affliction, Rose is pretty much the clan’s anchor with Joe’s friend, George.

Bender deftly portrays the efforts young Rose endures to, at first, keep her disorder a secret and, eventually, live with it. Rose is wise and perceptive; she is smart enough not to reveal too much. Although there are a few light moments, it’s more than a slice of cake that’s particularly sad. Rose and most everyone around her are all woefully unhappy.

The story’s saving grace is Bender’s writing which blends melancholy with the bizarre, while throwing sensitivity and a bit of wry humor into the mix. She’s also excellent at describing a Los Angeles neighborhood that doesn’t rely on tired landmarks.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Three-and-and-half Bookmarks
Doubleday, 2010
292 pages

My Favorite Book of 2013 — So Far   2 comments

I took last week off; I read, I hiked, I ate too much, I slept some, I wrote a bit, but mostly I decided to take a break from the Blue Page Special. In the process, I discovered that I missed it.

TellWolves

I just finished reading Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt and can’t stop thinking about it. Although the writing doesn’t fall into the take-your-breath-away category, the story certainly does. I still want to spend time with the characters: June, a 14-year-old misfit; Greta, her super-achieving sister; Finn, their deceased uncle; and Toby, Finn’s lover.

June is devastated when Finn, her best friend, dies of AIDS. She struggles, then Toby enters her life, and she continues to flounder. Except now she has someone to help her keep Finn’s memory alive. Toby and Finn lived together and, even though she spent a lot of time in their apartment, June never knew about Toby. This aspect has the potential to be implausible; instead, it enhances June’s character as a naïve teenager. Another potentially hard-to-believe feature is the bond that develops between the young girl and the thirty-something Toby.  Remarkably, there is never anything creepy or uncomfortable about it. This is largely due to their love for Finn, and the tentative manner in which their friendship evolves. Equally important is the sisters’ relationship.

Brunt masterfully creates relationships that are rich, painful, and grow before our very eyes. The novel is about friendship, first loves, misplaced jealousy and sibling relationships. Set in the mid 1980s, AIDS has just begun to make itself felt in American culture. Yet, that is simply a background element. This is a coming-of-age story that considers the way people change based on age, interests, opportunities, and circumstances.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home

Four-and-a-half Bookmarks

The Dial Press, 2012

355 pages

Family Holiday on Ice   5 comments

Mark Haddon’s The Red House is a metaphor for the definition of family;  the meaning can be obscured by comfort or serve as boundaries through which no one should cross. Haddon emphasizes the latter. Estranged brother and sister, Richard and Angela, meet for a family vacation shortly after their mother’s death. Richard’s a doctor and newly married to his second wife. Her 16-year-old daughter is part of the package. Angela and her husband have three children, but she mourns the still-born daughter she lost 18 years ago. These eight family members spend a week together in the English countryside as they tentatively reveal themselves to each other – some with better results than others.

Haddon’s approach is interesting. Each chapter represents one day of the vacation, and everyone’s perspective is provided to set the scene. Initially, it’s difficult, even confusing, keeping track of who’s who. However, as the storyline evolves, more about Angela’s grief is explained, not just from her viewpoint but her husband’s, too. Also, Richard is not as professionally secure as he projects, this from his wife.

Haddon blends the familiar (sulky teenagers) with the uncomfortable (sulky parents). Slowly, observations and experiences round out each character. Jumping from one person to another becomes less awkward. Mostly, the time together leads to everyone’s better understanding of him or herself. Haddon writes, “Behind everything there is a house … compared to which every other house is larger or colder or more luxurious.” Sounds a lot like the way all families are perceived.

The Red House
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Doubleday, 2012
264 pages