Wednesday, March 30, 2016

#15: Juba! by Walter Dean Myers

Juba! tells the real-life story of a free black man in 1800s New York with a notable talent for dance, whose rise to stardom begins when he is noticed by no less a person than Charles Dickens in Walter Dean Myers' interesting young adult novel.

I have been reading Myers since I was a young adult myself and still dip my toe into his work when something catches my eye.  Unfortunately this is Myers' last work, and was published posthumously.

I found Juba! to be nicely done but slight, although of interest to show the history and perception of race and race relations in that time period.

I listened to an audiobook version on loan from the Morrisson-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana, with a really good reading by Brandon Gill.

Juba! is worthwhile, but even more so I hope it introduces new readers to Myers' large and solid body of work.

Monday, March 21, 2016

#14: Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

The barriers between the normal world and the magical world of the Djinn are breaking down across the planet, unleashing a war between good and evil that lasts 1,001 nights in Salman Rushdie's Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights.

This is an epic, sprawling novel, alternating between whimsy and windy, panoramic scenes of battle contrasted with intimate scenes of romance, as several disparate characters--including an aging gardener who can suddenly levitate, a graphic artist whose superhero creation seems to come to life, and a social-climbing trophy wife imbued with murderous powers--band together to try and restore the world to normalcy.

The storytelling, obviously harking back to the Arabian Nights while keeping a contemporary vibe, is unique, and the large cast of characters--magical and mortal, human and ghostly, and so on--keep things interesting.

I would say the overall impression is a little uneven, but many readers looking for something different will find something worthwhile.

I bought this for myself with Christmas money and enjoyed it throughout.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

#13: The Case of Lisandra P by Helene Gremillon

A psychiatrist's wife plummets from a balcony, and he becomes the prime suspect; but a troubled, alcoholic patient believes in his innocence, and starts an investigation of her own in Helene Gremillon's psychological thriller The Case of Lisandra P.

This novel is set against the backdrop of Buenos Aires in the 1980s, a time of political unrest where citizens disappeared or came under torture from a military regime.  The protagonist's daughter is one of the disappeared, and the psychiatrist's possible role comes under scrutiny as well.

Gremillon writes a tight, relentless thriller, presented in a unique format including transcripts, drawings, and even sheet music.  Overall it lends to a unique style, with a lot of energy despite a downbeat ending.

I checked this novel out from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana and read it quickly.


Monday, March 7, 2016

#12: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaVelle

In 1920s New York, a Harlem street hustler/street musician is asked to play a gig at a mysterious old house, leading him down a path of madness and murder in Victor LaVelle's The Ballad of Black Tom.

LaVelle's jumping-off point for his novel is H.P. Lovecraft's The Horror at Red Hook, which when seen through contemporary eyes is rife with racism and general xenophobia.  LaVelle flips the story from the eyes of a white policeman to that of the black characters, with compelling results.

But LaVelle's novel is more than just a clever exercise; it is distinctly creepy and frightening in its own right.  The most chilling moment for me came when Tom decides he would rather have the vast indifference of cosmic gods than the close attention of white cops on Earth, an interesting take on Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos.

I would recommend going back and reading Lovecraft's story after as I did, as a study in contrast, but The Ballad of Black Tom is a solid horror story for fans either way.

I bought this for my beloved Kindle and read it quickly.

Friday, March 4, 2016

#11: Crossing the Line by Frédérique Molay

It's Christmas in Paris, but the stalwart cops of La Crim' and their chief, Nico Sirsky, have a tricky murder on their hands in Frederique Molay's French thriller Crossing the Line.

It seems as if a cadaver donated to science has a dental filling which holds a secret message, leading the police on a trail that includes mysterious disappearances and shadowy medical practices.

Molay's novel is brisk and undemanding, focusing more on the procedural than the police in this police procedural, but flashes of life in Paris over the holidays are welcome.

This novel comes from Le French Book, a publishing house bringing French beach reads to the U.S.; I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond Indiana and enjoyed it.