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The Changeling by Victor LaValle

A father loses his wife and infant child and goes to near-mythological lengths to findchangeling them.

Apollo Nagwa is the son of a Ugandan woman and an American father.  His dad left them when Apollo was quite young; memories of his father reverberate in repeated nightmares throughout Apollo’s childhood.  His only connection with his dad are his nightmares and a nondescript box with mementos and a favorite Maurice Sendak book.

Being of a bookish sort, Apollo parlays his knowledge into a used and rare book business.  Most of his stock he buys from estate sales and such, and the occasional rare book is just that – a rare tidbit that keeps his business barely running.

It’s during his browsing of a book sale at a library branch that he meets the love of his life.  Emma is a small woman of determination, a librarian who steals Apollo’s heart.  They marry, she gets pregnant, and they have a most unnatural natural birthing on a broken down subway car.  Brian, named for Apollo’s long-gone father, is their new addition.

Sounds like the beginnings of young family bliss?  Think again – things quickly become crazy.

Emma has a period of postpartum depression.  She then loses interest in the baby almost entirely.  By contrast, Apollo is the doting daddy – he takes their child everywhere, and posts an insane amount of baby pictures to Facebook.

In an unspeakable act of violence, Emma tears apart what’s left of their idyllic existence, and she and the baby are gone.  After hospitalization and imprisonment, Apollo goes on his own hero’s journey through the five boroughs to find his wife and child, helped by his friend Patrice, a war veteran turned computer geek, and egged on by a nerdy stranger interested in a crazy-good book find of Apollo’s.

The Changeling uses themes from myths and fairy tales, along with modern takes on technology and race, to spin its intriguing yarn of betrayal, love, and hard knocks.  The book is a rambling read, well-written and with plenty of unnerving jolts – it kept my interest up, even when reading it on an iPhone.

There be witches and monsters in the Big Apple.

The library has The Changeling in book form and eBook.

(William Hicks, Information Services)



Deep Winter by Samuel W. Gailey

deep winterIt begins with an innocent visit to a friend’s home.

Danny Bedford is a gentle giant of a man.  Years after suffering brain damage as a child during an accident that took the lives of his parents, Danny manages to make his way to midlife.  He lives in a small room above a laundromat that he cleans for rent and a stipend.

Most people in his small Pennsylvania town avoid and make fun of Danny.  Only Mindy Knolls, a waitress in the local diner and Danny’s friend since childhood, has anything worthwhile to say to him.

When Danny stops by Mindy’s trailer with a present and well wishes for her birthday, he finds her dead, with the perpetrators red-handed.  One of them, the town drunk turned deputy, is quick and mean enough to pin the blame on Danny.  When the sheriff comes calling, the deputy is able to convince him of Danny’s guilt, and Danny, befuddled and injured, is in custody at the doctor’s office.

What appears to be a quick deception changes to a manhunt of epic proportions, when Danny gets away.  A state policeman becomes involved, and Mindy’s twin brothers also join the hunt in their own fashion, with revenge on their mind.

The town of Wyalusing will lose some population before the next blizzard.

Deep Winter is a tense, gritty story of sad souls locked into a small town grind where low wages are a living and booze the main outlet.  The book is also an extended study of bullying, its repercussions into adulthood, and how individuals and a community reject a person for being different.

The weather, which gives the book its name, is a relentless adversary.  The descriptions of the snow, the menace of the woods, and the treacherous conditions of driving all drive up the scariness of the story.  Also, the novel takes place in the early 1980s, so easy access to a cell phone is not the case.

There are several points of view in the novel, and you have to get used to some time shifts and past memories that throw the narrative occasionally, but on the whole, Deep Winter is an engaging rural noir thriller.  I was at turns horrified by the violence and callousness of some characters, and gladdened by the humanity of others.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

The Inside Out Man by Fred Strydom

A hapless jazz pianist gets a lucrative offer that at first seems too easy and asinside out man time passes, drives him to extreme measures.

Bent has fended for himself since his mother’s death when he was still in his teens.  A gifted musician, he ekes out a half-life playing a few gigs a week.  Bent has no family, no girlfriend – really no connections, other than the handful of establishments that will let him tickle the ivories for the door.

The worldly and mysterious Leonard Fry appears at a club where Bent plays and offers him an insane amount of money to play piano at his country estate for a weekend party.  Bent goes for it – and then with some trepidations, he accepts another offer from Leonard after the party.  The deal?  Bent has to lock Leonard in a room in the mansion for one year and feed him three times a day through a slot in the door.  In return, Bent gets free run of the house and cars and a huge cash settlement at the end of a year’s time.

It sounds simple enough, but Bent quickly gets cabin fever, or as much as one can get in an enormous country house.  His dreams become stranger and more vivid.  He has an unfortunate accident while driving one of Leonard’s cars, emerging unscathed but with a great deal of guilt.  From an uncanny start, he soon meets an assumed ex-lover of Leonard’s, and begins a relationship with her.

From his self-imposed exile, Leonard appears to know way more of Bent’s daily activities than is humanly possible.  He knows about Bent’s accident, and is fully aware of his affair.  Leonard starts to taunt Bent, and Bent gets back at him.

Then Bent gets truly unhinged.

The Inside Out Man tracks one man’s breakdown of sanity and identity as he trades drudgery for luxury and finds out the hard way that it was never worth it.  The book is a page-turner (or page-burner, as a review excerpt puts it on the cover) that ratchets up finely but left me confused at the end.  Who is Bent, exactly?

(William Hicks, Information Services)




Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Hello to all the avid readers of this blog!

If it isn’t apparent, I am a loyal fan of Rainbow Rowell.  Her work, titled Attachments, Attachmentsdoes not disappoint with the familiar aspect of Rowell’s writing style.  Attachments is written for an older audience, which varies from her previous novels such as Fangirl and Eleanor and Park, that cater to young adult readers.

In Attachments, we meet Lincoln, a 28-year old Internet security officer who works third shift at a newspaper called the Courier.  His job is basically sending out warnings to employees who use the Internet or email program inappropriately.  He is the type of guy who loves learning, considering he has three separate degrees, and enjoys a night in playing Dungeons and Dragons with old friends.  He lives at home with his mother after suffering from heartbreak over his high school sweetheart with whom he traveled across the country to go to college with years before.

While observing the WebFence program that pulls flagged emails into a special folder, Lincoln stumbles across the daily conversations of Beth and Jennifer.  He becomes infatuated with the lives of these two through their personal emails to each other.  He eventually develops feelings for Beth without even knowing what she looks like.  At the same time, Beth becomes interested in Lincoln after seeing him around the office at night, without realizing who he is, but knows she cannot pursue because of her existing relationship with too-cool-for-relationships boyfriend Chris.

Over time, thanks to the confidence inspired by Beth, and urging from his sister Eve, Lincoln starts to form a social life that isn’t in a computer screen or in a game.  His midnight dinners with the mom-like Doris, the break room vending machine operator, inspire him to become more independent.  Luckily, Doris moving into a care facility allows Lincoln to move into an apartment partially made for him, with high ceilings and just enough space.  His mother comes to terms with his leaving while he comes to terms with how he feels about relationships.

Rowell takes the reader through the twists and turns of Lincoln’s life, allowing the reader to place themselves in his shoes.  Attachments is an amazing read and highly recommended for those awkward book lovers.

(Amanda Sanson, Central Library)


Blame by Jeff Abbott

BlameJane Norton is a damaged soul who almost died two years ago in a car wreck that killed her close friend and next-door neighbor David.  After awakening from a coma, Jane has no memories from the three years prior to the accident.

She is soon to become an outcast in her neighborhood due to a suicide note in her own handwriting, found at the wreck site, which implicates her intent to kill them both.  David’s mother Perri, who was close to Jane for years, now hates her.

After flunking out of her first semester of college, Jane is now living illegally in a friend’s college dorm room and avoiding her mother when she can.  Most of her few former close friends are distant now, although her friend Kamala made the best attempts to help Jane acculturate socially after the accident.  To put it bluntly, Jane is a mess – until she gets a message through her social media account from an entity named Liv Danger, who threatens her and all involved with the wreck, and gets into a tussle with Perri at David’s gravesite.

From then on, the book becomes an intense page turner, as Jane, trusting nobody, finds she has to take chances – with old relationships, neighbors, her mother, and a graduate student who takes an unusual interest in Jane’s situation, not to mention a persistent down-on-his-luck journalist who wants to continue her story in a series he had begun right after the accident.

It soon seems that Liv Danger has a bone to pick with lots of people, and that Jane and Perri have more in common than mutual loathing.

My lone excursion into Jeff Abbott territory was his earlier book Adrenaline (the first in the Sam Capra series, and a cracking good thriller).  Blame is a standalone novel.  To be honest, the book started out as domestic melodrama for me, but this didn’t last long.  Abbott kicked it in overdrive soon enough, and provided plenty of juicy turns throughout.

(William Hicks, Information Services)




The Devil’s Wedding Ring by Vidar Sundstøl

devil's wedding ringWith news of his former friend Knut’s death, Max Fjellanger returns to his native Norway to attend the funeral, and remains much longer then he’d intended.

Knut Abrahamsen killed himself, or so the police have decided, after they dredge his body from a river, his pockets stuffed with rocks.

Max, who is a private investigator, doesn’t accept the finality of the case, and decides to look further into his friend’s alleged suicide.  He joins up with Tirill Vesterli, a librarian who has a theory of her own about a previous murder in the area – one concerning a college student writing her thesis about an ongoing ritual of the residents of Eidsborg.

The medieval stave church in this village in Telemark is the center of interest.  Parishioners there have revived a yearly ritual in which they immerse the wooden statue of a local saint in a nearby lake to insure good fortune.

As Max and Tirill pick at the meager clues, others in the community begin to show their displeasure and the danger ratchets up, especially as Midsummer Eve, the time of the ritual, approaches.  It would appear that something older and more sinister is afoot than a yearly immersion of a saint’s effigy.

The Devil’s Wedding Ring brings together strands of folklore and paganism into a satisfying industrial-strength thriller that fans of Nordic Noir will probably enjoy.

Although the book is fiction, the Eidsborg Stave Church still exists today – read the Author’s Note at the book’s end to find out more.

(William Hicks, Information Services)





Quiet Until The Thaw by Alexandra Fuller

quietQuiet Until the Thaw is the first work of fiction by Fuller, who is known more for her memoirs of growing up in southern Africa (Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, Leaving Before the Rains Come, etc.).  This book is a multi-generational account of two Lakota Sioux cousins and their differing paths, one conciliatory and nurturing, the other violent.

Life on the rez, or in this case Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, is a grind of poverty, government interference, and other means of miseries.  Into this milieu come two cousins, born within months of each other in the 1940s.

Rick Overlooking Horse is by far the more thoughtful of the two.  A child and then man of few words, he endures both mental and physical injuries during his tenure in Vietnam.  On his return home, Rick rejects the outside, i.e. the white man’s world, for a stripped down teepee-dwelling pastoral life.  He becomes a go-to in the vicinity for spiritual matters.

You Choose What Son is the more difficult of the two even as a child, and this continues into adulthood, when, after evading the draft, he lives a life of crime and then ironically, leadership, when he wins the office of tribal chairman by a campaign of chicanery.  After a short reign of bullying proportions, You Choose is brought down after a bout of violence.

In the long term, You Choose’s destiny ends much more wisely, although it takes a lengthy stint in prison and a tragedy wrought by his own hand.  His cousin’s quiet and steady presence, even after his demise, continues to influence You Choose and others, including a set of twins that Rick adopted under extreme conditions.

I became aware of Quite Until the Thaw earlier this year through articles/reviews about the author.  This was during a period in which other writers were getting criticism for cultural appropriation in their books, and Alexandra Fuller also received some raised eyebrows for writing this novel about the Sioux, and her being an outsider.

My take?  I’d recommend the book.  Fuller paints an empathetic picture of reservation life, and doesn’t fail to criticize factions that have probably made situations worse at these places.  She also places historical events in their context (Wounded Knee in 1973) and this adds to the book.

Quiet Until the Thaw is a quick read.  The chapters are brief (usually just a few pages), but in their brevity pack a wallop.

(William Hicks, Information Services)