Sunday, November 30, 2014

Forty Days Without Shadow by Olivier Truc

The vast tundra of Lapland is the perfect setting for this thriller that shines a spotlight on tensions between the native Sami peoples and the Norwegians. On the fortieth day without shadow, a drum that is of symbolic importance to the Sami, is stolen from a local Kautokeino museum. When a Sami reindeer herder is also found murdered in a day, the Reindeer Police know more’s at stake. The mystery checks all the right boxes but it’s the setting that truly elevates the story. One can’t help but be amazed at man’s ability to survive even in the bleakest places.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson

The Laughing Monsters, a set of mountains in the Congo, were named by a Victorian missionary. Denis Johnson’s adrenaline-filled adventure through the heart of Africa, features Roland Nair, a NATO operative, and his buddy, Michael Adriko, a Ugandan native, who set out on a mission whose purpose is hazy at best. Johnson’s story lacks focus, which can be frustrating but the powerful descriptions of Africa are simply stunning. Hardcore Johnson fans will find much that is familiar, but this isn’t his best novel. That it is still worth reading speaks to the quality of Denis Johnson’s incredible body of work.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Kim Jong-Il Production by Paul Fischer

Kim Jong-Il, the North Korean leader, was an avid movie fanatic. Realizing the power of the medium to sell his version of the country’s story, he arranged to abduct South Korean cinema’s golden couple: movie director Shin Sang-Ok and actress Choi Eun-Ee, and forced them to make propaganda movies. This is a blockbuster account of not just a bizarre true story but of the surreal North Korea of the ‘70s and’ 80s. It is also a brilliant exploration of cinema as political tool. Celluloid can be crafted to tell any story be it one of escape or mass delusion.

Thanks to BookBrowse's First Impressions program for an ARC.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Brief History Of Seven Killings by Marlon James

The iridescent flashes of color on the Jamaican black-billed streamertail hummingbird might well mirror the luminous prose in Marlon James’ epic novel. There are many more than seven killings here and the novel is anything but brief, but this is a heartbreaking story crafted like a kaleidoscope. Each new chapter delivers a new perspective from a different angle or voice and place. While the Jamaican patois that is sprinkled liberally through the narrative might be difficult to understand at times, this is a story epic in every way that counts: vision, setting, ambition, voice. A singularly astounding achievement.

Us by David Nicholls

The three members of the Petersen family are alone even when together. Trying to salvage a troubled marriage, Doug convinces Connie to take one last European family vacation before their son moves on to college. As things spiral out of control, the story shines light on the everyday joys and slights that shape a marriage. Most parents will empathize with Doug’s struggles to make peace with his increasingly distant son. Even if the story sags in the middle before amping up again, this is a moving story about life’s relationships and how the best intentions can often turn devastatingly awry.