The River of Kings by Taylor Brown

Lawton and Hunter Loggins are brothers in their twenties, one a Navy Seal, the other inriver of kings college.  After their father’s death, they set out on a kayaking trek, navigating the wilds of Georgia’s Altamaha River to a specific place where they intend to empty their dad’s ashes.

As we travel with Lawton and Hunter, two other tales intertwine with their story – that of their father in his earlier days, and that concerning the first French settlers of this area of southeast Georgia.

Hiram Loggins was a harsh man – unlucky with shrimp boats and the law, and in love with the wrong woman.  As the brothers grew up, he raised them hard and tender – hard with the physical abuse, and tender in the ways that he taught them to revere the Altamaha and its swampy terrain.  It is to this river that they fare, to do their unforgiving dad one last favor.

The third strand of the book concerns the settlement of Fort Caroline, begun by the French in 1564.  Varying alliances with natives and clashes with the Spanish ultimately spell doom to the settlement.  The main character here is Jacques Le Moyne, an artist charged with rendering the sights of the new world with his sketches.

Le Moyne was an actual person; facsimiles of his works illustrate the book.   The River of Kings plays on the proposal that Fort Caroline was situated on the Altamaha rather than the St. Johns River; a theory about this came out about three years ago.

The area of the Altamaha in all three storylines is rich with myth, including the accounts of a mysterious aquatic creature that inhabits the lower reaches of the river.  The French hear tales of it from the natives, and Le Moyne is obsessed with seeing the creature, if anything to sketch it.  The monster also plays into Lawton and Hunter’s story – Lawton especially believes that their father was aware of the creature.  Their leg of the book is its own odyssey, a hero’s journey of siblings and their discovery of each other, while keeping sharp eyes on the dangers of the river, should they be river monster or two-legged nemesis.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Anansi_BoysFat Charlie Nancy has a solid life – a decent job in London, a devoted fiancée – but a life as boring as drying paint.  Then his father dies, and things change.

His dad passes away happily, as the life of the party at a karaoke bar in Florida.  At the funeral, Fat Charlie learns that he has a brother, and that his father was Anansi, the trickster god.  And when his brother Spider comes calling, Charlie’s routines end.

He goes out partying with his brother and wakes up with a stranger.  After Spider “subs” for Fat Charlie during his hangover, the job situation gets…odd, when his cliché-spouting menace of a boss takes a strong interest in Fat Charlie’s computer and suddenly gives him a bonus and time off.

Spider also takes a fancy to Fat Charlie’s fiancée Rosie and things get very strained between the two siblings, enough for Charlie to wish his charming, otherworldly brother gone.  He enlists the help of a supernatural kind, the kind that makes a flock of birds an unholy menace – and Fat Charlie realizes he’s gone too far.

In Anansi Boys, Gaiman reworks sibling rivalry into a rollicking yarn that flirts with the mythological and primordial.  Gods and nature spirits interact with and (more than occasionally) become humans.  And shy Fat Charlie…becomes a lot more himself in a bumbling and humorous hero’s journey, as he saves the day for many, reconciles with his brother, and gets the girl, although I won’t say who or how.

It’s all in the story and the song – and being sly doesn’t hurt.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Ed Tarkington

Only Love Can Break Your HeartLife is relatively easy for eight-year-old Rocky in sleepy 1970s Spencerville, located in the foothills of Virginia.  What makes things fun and sometimes dangerous is tagging along with his older half-brother Paul, whom Rocky adores.  Paul personifies teenage rebellion.  He smokes nonstop, drives recklessly and fast, and best of all – at least to Rocky – has a sharp ear for post-1960s rock music.  Neil Young is a personal favorite of the two.

Paul is in love with Leigh Bowman at the time.  When she leaves for college and presumably begins a different life, Paul gets a little crazy in the head – enough to abandon his little brother briefly out in the country, and then disappear with Leigh entirely.  She comes back several months later, distraught and with a story of her own, but without Paul.  Her father, never a fan of Paul’s and ever cautious of his family’s standing in the community, has Leigh committed.

The story jumps ahead several years, when Rocky is fifteen and meets Patricia, the adult daughter of their rich neighbors.  A sordid and short-lived romance blooms, but Patricia breaks it off before their affair becomes a scandal.  After all, Rocky is still a minor, and Patricia has bigger issues at hand, one being Leigh Bowman’s eminent wedding to her older brother.  The rumors have been flying about Leigh’s mental stability, or lack thereof, so anything can happen, and does – and in the aftermath, all parties involved bear the brunt of fate.

Only Love Can Break Your Heart could have quickly devolved into clichéd Southern Gothic, but thankfully, it really doesn’t.  Throughout, the book remained a page-turner, with enough plot twists to keep things going.  You genuinely long with Rocky for his older brother to return,  and for the fragile individuals in the book not to suffer, and several here become more fragile as the book goes on.   Also, the author writes engagingly, with some great turns of descriptive phrase that from time to time had me re-reading them.  I really hated for the book to end.

The resonance of the book was the memories it invoked – of being young in a small town in the 1970s, and having older siblings who did crazy things and listened to the “cool” music.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

 

 

 

 

Only the Dead by Vidar Sundstøl

only the deadAs always, start at the beginning, particularly in a series.

This book, the second in Sundstøl’s Minnesota Trilogy, recounts two days of a deer hunt that ends in a horrific ice storm.

Whereas the first book (The Land of Dreams) is more of a moody action piece, this one is a moody psychological study.  It’s about a man eaten up by his suspicions, as he plays along during a yearly hunting trip with his brother that he hopes will be the last – ever.  Lance Hansen has thoughts that his brother Andy had something to do with a gruesome murder a few months back.  It’s very hard to keep these thoughts to himself when he’s out hunting with his brother, and Lance wonders if Andy’s gun sights will soon be aimed at him.  Or is he just paranoid?

The main story line alternates with passages about a previous murder a hundred years ago, when an ancestor of Lance’s may or may not have killed an Ojibwe Indian man.  The account is of someone pushed close to death by cold exposure and the delusions that come with it.

In the present day, the weather worsens greatly, and Lance’s mind races to all kinds of hallucinatory fancy, as he tries to keep himself alive amidst freezing rain and rising fear of his brother.

Definitely read The Land of Dreams first.  In my opinion, it’s the better book and moves much faster than this one.  Only the Dead is more of a slog, albeit a short one.  It’s worth reading for the mental suspense and how one’s perceptions change under adverse conditions.  I am hoping that the third book (The Ravens) will tie things together.

(William Hicks, Information Services)