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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)




Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen

Someone Like You deviates from many of Sarah Dessen’s works.  She typically focusessomeone like you on adolescent romances and coming of age stories.

In Someone Like You, the coming of age portion leaves the romance in the shadows.  The book concerns the friendship of Halley and Scarlett, two best friends – better yet, soul sisters.  Scarlett moved into Halley’s neighborhood when they were still young and they have never left each other alone since.

Scarlett, bold and beautiful, has a summer romance with Michael Sherwood, a wild boy with mystery.  However, Michael meets an untimely death, leaving Scarlett hurt and with a surprise.  Halley, shy and beautiful, while battling with breaking away from her mother’s overbearing ways, has to help Scarlett get through the most challenging events a sixteen-year-old girl should face.  In addition, Halley falls for Macon Faulkner, a boy with a reputation.  She tries to keep up with his bad boy ways until he asks for something she may never be ready to give him.

This endearing tale focuses on the strengths of both girls individually, making choices that will make or break them. I highly recommend Someone Like You for anyone trying to find their voice and personal niche in today’s society.

(Amanda Sanson, Central Library)

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)





Sightlines : A Conversation with the Natural World by Kathleen Jamie

As a nature writer, Kathleen Jamie sparkles.

In her native Scotland, she is knownsightlines primarily as a poet.  As an essayist, it would be great if she does more.  In Sightlines, Jamie takes an intense interest in all that she observes, and her places of interest range from the microscopic renderings of the human body to the fjords of Greenland.

Jamie’s essays cover the otherworldly, too.  In “Moon”, I think she’s put together a most excellent narrative about a lunar eclipse; she sees an event of high drama in the earth’s encroaching shadow.  During her visit to Greenland, Jamie takes on the Northern Lights, about as otherworldly a thing as anything we’ll ever see.

Her essays take in great swaths of the natural world, with a focus on the maritime climes of the northern Atlantic.  The sea and its effect on remote island settlements play a major part in several pieces here.  Whales are also a particular fascination – one essay is about her visit to the Hvalsalen, a museum in Norway with an extensive collection of whale skeletons.  There she is able to work with a restoration crew on a cleanup of the most significant specimens of the museum.

I found Jamie’s writing and scope of interest comparable to Robert Macfarlane (The Wild Places, Landmarks), another British author who writes some amazing nature essays.  As with him, her writing begs the reader to slow down and to stretch one’s attention span.  If you’re willing, you’ll be glad you did.

(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)


Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell astounds readers with her novel Eleanor & Park.  The writing style pullseleanor and park the reader into a sense of familiarity.  Rowell opens the story up by letting the reader know tragedy strikes, almost as if letting the reader prepare for the winding road ahead without giving too much away.  She also creates a world where it is difficult to feel any malice, even towards the antagonists of the story.  In a subtle way, she shares little pieces of every character’s life in the story to submerge the reader into an entirely new world.  Rowell exposes the real world to the readers without scaring them, and in Eleanor & Park, she has created a wonderful book that helps understand differences.

Eleanor & Park concerns the lives of two outcast teenagers. Eleanor is an outcast in her own home, trying to find solace in the books and music she saved from her past.  She returns after a year of banishment by her stepfather, only to feel solace in the bus seat she shares with Park.  Park, a boy who grew up in the same neighborhood, never feels any excitement or passion for anything outside of his comics and Walkman.  Initially, he views Eleanor just as everyone else on the bus and school does – with disdain.  However, as time passes, their bus rides become intimate.  Eleanor opens up to him and he finds a fire in himself for her that he has never known before.  The story progresses through the heat of young love, abuse, and eventually, freedom for both Eleanor and Park in their own ways.

This book would be great for adolescents and adults alike.  I highly recommend Eleanor & Park because almost anyone who reads it can relate to some part of it in their own way.

(Amanda Sanson, Central Library)


The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson

true deceiverKatri Kling and her brother Mats are pariahs of a sort in their village.  He is considered simple and says very little – she says what she thinks, and is fearfully candid about the pettiness of others.  Some of the townspeople, wary of Katri’s sharp tongue and unusual looks, think of her as a witch.  Others have a passing respect of her honesty.  And Mats, in his understated manners, makes his own way, doing odd jobs, particularly at the boathouse.

In an attempt to better their situation, Katri sets her sights on Anna Aemelin, the town’s wealthiest inhabitant, a renowned children’s book illustrator who is reclusive and knows the town’s shopkeeper only by phone calls.

Katri ingratiates herself into Anna’s good graces and her home (a much better place than the attic above the shop) and through hard persuasion is able to control Anna’s finances.  At first, this is of benefit to Anna – she is well-off but woefully unaware of how to focus the use of her money.  Katri is calculating enough to pull this off for a while, if only to give her and Mats a leg up.  It’s not a bad tradeoff for Anna, at least initially.  She gets some needed house repairs done, courtesy of Mats, and due to Katri’s diligence, some hard negotiating with her publishers.

Idyllic as this arrangement seems, it’s not too long before the two women come at odds with each other, and find each other’s vulnerabilities.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of The True Deceiver.  It’s a quick read (the book clocks in at about 180 pages), and the book evokes the harshness of winter in a small town quite nicely (the author is Finnish, the book originally published in 1982, so get your Scandinavian bearings here).  The ending was not completely clear to me – was it a triumph of will for shut-in Anna, a self-realization of denials?  Was it Katri’s win of sorts, in that she secures shelter and something else very hard to acquire for her brother, at the cost of a personal loss of companion?

I’d better mention the dog, a German Shepherd type who is a constant fixture in the story, but evolves as the women’s relationship evolves.

There’s a distinct fairytale quality about the book.  Maybe it is the eeriness of the never ending winter, or the abruptness of the narrative, or the very oddity of Katri herself.

(William Hicks, Information Services)