The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

name of the windKote is an innkeeper in a rural village where mostly nothing happens and news of the world comes from bigger places.  He has his regulars, a loyal assistant named Bast, and the quiet respect of the townspeople, even though he is relatively new to the area.

Kote also has a past that he’d rather keep hidden, which he does, up until unearthly things begin happening, and a stranger known as the Chronicler arrives, wanting to know more of Kote’s background.

Kote is actually Kvothe, a figure of legend.  Born within a troupe of wandering performers called the Edema Ruh, Kvothe proves to be a quick study of song and stage practice that his parents teach him – actually, he’s a quick study of practically anything, be it languages or more esoteric arts.

When Abenthy, a self-professed arcanist, begins to travel with Kvothe’s troupe, the young boy makes fast friends with him, and learns far more than he’d have dreamed from Abenthy.  Abenthy also raises Kvothe’s awareness of the University, and the possibilities of the knowledge he could acquire from studying there.

Abenthy eventually settles down and leaves the troupe, and tragedy hits, in the form of demonic beings known as the Chandrian, who kill all of the troupe except Kvothe.  In a daze of mourning, he makes it to the insanely big city of Tarbean, where he lives by his wits, until by luck and sheer chutzpah, Kvothe makes it to the University and begins his work in earnest.

Now, if only he could stay out of trouble…

A gradual hero of sorts, Kvothe becomes a master of public perception, while he scandalizes the masters of the University, makes enemies (and sometimes some powerful ones), secures a coveted musician’s rating in the nearby town, and gets the girl (or not).

The Name of the Wind is a sprawling yarn of a vaguely medieval world where magic of a sort is real and legends grow more fanciful  with each telling.  You probably won’t finish it quickly (the book clocks in at 660-some pages) but be prepared for quite a journey.  There’s some slogs in places here, but for the most part, I felt The Name of the Wind to be worth my while.

The Wise Man’s Fear is book two, if you want more.

(William Hicks, Information Services)



Ash Falls by Warren Read

Ash Falls chronicles the news of a prison escapee in the 1980s and its effects on a ash fallscommunity, as told through several viewpoints.

Ash Falls is a small town in the mountains of Washington State with a dicey economy.  Everyone knows everybody else and their business.  There’s a sense of security in this, but also confinement.

When Ernie Luntz, en route from a maximum to a medium security prison in Washington State, leaves the prison system through a tragic twist of luck, his potential reappearance looms over Ash Falls where his ex-wife and teenage son live, with much speculation as to what will happen if he returns there.

Bobbie Luntz, nurse at the local high school, gave up on their marriage long before Ernie went to jail for bludgeoning a mouthy teenager during a town festival.  She lives a sort of half-life as a mom and maintains a faltering affair with Hank Kelleher, a pot-dealing retired school teacher who lives in the woods away from town.

Hank has his own issues with aging, and a love/hate relationship with his sister Lyla Henry and her family.  Lyla and husband Jonas have held forth with a certain middle class snobbishness while raising a son who is everything they are not – a troublemaker from day one who is now in his early twenties and married to seventeen-year-old Marcelle.

Marcelle sees an early marriage as an easy getaway from the doldrums of high school.  Unfortunately, it is no escape for her, as her husband Eugene is an emotional man-child, their marriage loveless, her mother-in-law overly critical, and overeating her only solace.

Bobbie’s son Patrick and Marcelle were close friends in high school before she got married.  Within the confines of Ash Falls, Patrick barely fits in, and at times, he runs away to foster home of sorts in Seattle, where the situation seems more real to him.  Patrick bides his time finishing school while working part-time at a mink farm.  The job is dirty and tedious and his boss is an old crank, but Patrick finds a sort of structure there.

In capturing the claustrophobic feel of a small town, the novel excels.  There’s a real sense of hopelessness here, the only glimmers of hope being in the aftermath of tragedies.  The small town America the author evokes here could be anywhere in the country, and even if the story happens thirty years ago, the setting still resonates.

(William Hicks, Information Services)



Fatal by John Lescroart

fatalThe main character in this fast-paced thriller is a likeable cop named Beth.  Beth’s close friend Kate tells her that she’s become obsessed with a man whom she and her husband met at a dinner.  Although she doesn’t even remember his name, she is determined to have sex with him.  Beth, who’s investigated plenty of crimes involving adultery, urges Kate not to act on her fantasy, since this is the sort of thing that ruins lives.

However, Kate wastes little time in getting the man’s name and contact information and luring him into a sexual escapade with long-lasting negative consequences.

Later, during a murder investigation, the victim’s friends tell Beth that everyone loved the victim – surely, no one had any motive to kill him.  However, Beth discovers that his behavior changed radically near the end of his life.  Now the list of people with possible motives to kill him is almost endless, and the police face a very difficult task.

Another plot involves a terrorist attack that injures two of the book’s characters.

Reviewers praise Lescroart, who wrote eighteen bestsellers previous to this one, for his character-driven fiction.

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica

Quinn wakes up to find that her roommate, Esther, is not in their apartment.  In spite ofdon't you cry the cold weather, the door leading from Esther’s room to the fire escape is open, and Esther’s phone is still in the apartment.

As hours go by without Esther’s return, Quinn becomes more and more concerned.  Surely, she thinks, Esther would have left a note explaining her unusual behavior.  Quinn eventually calls the bookstore where Esther works; she did not show up for her shift.  Again, this is totally out of character for Esther.  Quinn contacts the police, who assure her that adults who go missing will eventually return on their own.  Esther does not.  Quinn searches the apartment, desperately seeking clues to Esther’s disappearance.  Her findings eventually lead Quinn to rethink everything she’d thought she knew about Esther.

Meanwhile, in a small town some miles from the apartment, Alex, a young man working as a dishwasher in a coffee shop, is intrigued by a beautiful young woman who enters the shop.  It isn’t tourist season, and few strangers enter the shop at this time of year.  Why is she in town?  Who is she?  He fantasizes that she might become his girlfriend, but the better he gets to know her, the stranger she seems.

This novel, after a rather slow start, gradually becomes more and more suspenseful.  Stick with it; you’ll be glad you did!

Mary Kubica wrote the bestselling novels The Good Girl and Pretty Baby.

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

Coffin Road by Peter May

coffin roadImagine nearly drowning, and then not knowing who you are.

That is the fate of our main character, a man who is seen staggering onto the shore of the island of Harris in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.  Luckily, his landlady recognizes him, as does his dog, and the married couple living close by.  The wife apparently knows him much more closely than the others.

The only link to his past that he recognizes is a map of the island showing a trek through the mountains that the locals call Coffin Road.  When he hikes up there, there is something there that triggers memories.

Meanwhile, there’s an investigation into a murder on one of the Flannan Isles north-west of Harris.  As things progress, it seems that our amnesiac, identified as Neal Maclean, has been writing a book about the disappearance of the three lighthouse keepers from the Flannans over a hundred years ago, and he is known for making regular boat trips to the islands.

The third story thread concerns Karen Fleming, a rebellious teenager in Edinburgh who is still not herself two years after her father’s suicide.  As she finds out more from her godfather and confronts her mother, Karen becomes convinced that her father is still alive, although at what cost will there be to see and speak to him again?

Although the book starts out slow (as it might for anybody stumbling and disoriented out of the rough ocean), the pace soon picks up as the other storylines begin, and a strong sinister undertone will goad you into reading past bedtime.  There is also an underpinning environmental issue that will give the reader something to consider.

Peter May has been a prolific writer of television and crime fiction.  I read his Lewis Trilogy over the past few years and liked them very much.  Coffin Road, a standalone book, albeit one with a few repeat characters from the Lewis Trilogy, continues his fine evocation of the sea and terrain that make up the wild islands of western Scotland.

(William Hicks, Information Services)



Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin

Marcus, fresh out of foster care following his mother’s untimely death, goes to live withgrief cottage his mother’s aunt Charlotte, a solitary sort who paints landscapes of the South Carolina island where she resides.

Marcus, despite his recent personal turmoil, is a dependable kid.  Being as his mother was a single working parent, he’s learned how to run a household, and this puts him in good stead with his great-aunt.  Although Charlotte keeps to herself, the two get along a fair amount, and Marcus learns to give her room, which in turn gives him plenty of time to sort out his island surroundings.  Two things of his interest are a clutch of loggerhead turtle eggs in the dunes next to Charlotte’s house, and a ruined house at the north end of the island that the locals call Grief Cottage, named because of a family who died there when Hurricane Hazel hit the island in 1954.

Marcus obsesses about the cottage, particularly after he first senses a presence there, and then more so when the ghost appears to him.  It’s in Marcus’s mind that the ghost is the teenage son of the family that perished, and identifying this family becomes his main goal.  That, and being the caregiver for Charlotte, who hurts herself during a fall.

Marcus, despite being a solitary type, and caring for one, finds that there are some things that he doesn’t have to shoulder alone.  He meets some unlikely wayfarers on his island journey of self-discovery, including the unforgettable Lachicotte Hayes, antique car restorer extraordinaire and Charlotte’s close friend, who becomes a stalwart supporter of Marcus, and Coral Upchurch, a wheelchair-bound ninety-five year old who knows more about Grief Cottage than the locally produced history books of the area.

Grief Cottage is a quietly written but lively novel.  There’s no sensationalism or mind-blowing action here, just an incisive pondering of bereavement and guilt, as told by an eleven-year old kid who’s seen too much for his lifetime.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

The Weight of This World by David Joy

Aiden McCall, orphaned at age twelve, is soon taken in by his buddy Thad Broom, andweight the two grow up inseparable, albeit in an unusual circumstance.  They live in a trailer down the hill from Thad’s mother’s house.  Thad basically got kicked out by his stepfather, and he fends for himself.  His mother is distant to him.

Flash forward to when the two are twenty-four.  Thad has finished a tour of duty in Afghanistan; he’s a damaged soul with a messed up back and too many memories of the front.  Aiden has spent most of his young adulthood committing petty crimes and riding the pre-recession building boom in their corner of western North Carolina.  Of course, the jobs are largely gone, and Aiden and Thad eke it out filching copper from the shells of unfinished houses and doing an occasional drug deal.

A chance visit with their local meth dealer finds our two friends witnessing a horrible accident that leaves them with a serious stash and more money than either have seen in years.

For Aiden, this windfall, ill-fortuned as it is for some, is the ticket out of their dead-end town.  If only it were this easy.  As it is, Thad has the gift of gab when he’s on a meth bender, so too many other people become interested in what the two have.

Interwoven with Aiden and Thad’s stories is that of April, Thad’s mother, who still has the house up the hill and has her own dreams of leaving.  She has always carried an internal burden that has kept her cold to her son.  It’s ironic that she and Aiden have been intimate since before Thad got back from the army.  The two men are still the best of friends, but this affair is certainly a friction point.

The Weight of This World is hardcore grit lit, a tale of woe in which nothing is a clear-cut choice.  Our heroes, as they were, are beat-up and doomed people who wish for better things than fate is willing to give them.  I found the book a sad but well-written read.

This is the second novel by David Joy; read his first (Where All Light Tends to Go).  It’s perhaps even grittier than this one.

Fans of Daniel Woodrell and Ron Rash – take note.

(William Hicks, Information Services)