Fiction

MAGPIE MURDERS by Anthony Horowitz

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When an editor receives the final installment in famous author Alan Conway’s Atticus Pünd mystery series, she is immediately sucked into the story.  A housekeeper has died falling down the stairs–a seeming accident.  But when the wealthy estate owner is decapitated at the foot of the same staircase days later, it must be connected.  Detective Atticus Pünd hadn’t intended to take any more cases since he learned he is dying.  But the facts of the case are too strange to pass up.  It seems everyone in the village had a motive for one or both murders, and yet none of the motives seem to explain all of the events.  As the novel draws to a close and Pünd is about to reveal the murderer, the editor realizes that there is a chapter missing.  She puts in a call to her boss, asking him to contact the author, and instead receives startling news:  the author is dead–an apparent suicide.  It turns out that he, like his character Pünd, was dying of cancer.  But something doesn’t sit right about the author’s death, and as the editor searches for the final chapter of his manuscript, she begins to suspect that he may have been murdered, as well.

This intriguing double mystery reads a bit like an Agatha Christie.  It is riddled with quirky suspects and red herrings–both in the framing story and the mystery “novel” within.  I found the Pünd plotline more engaging at first, as it took me a little while to get into the framing mystery once the Pünd story abruptly ended.  But it was a neat concept and definitely kept me reading to the end.  I recommend it to fans of classic whodunit mysteries.

THE MYSTERY OF BLACK HOLLOW LANE by Julia Nobel

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People think it must be great growing up as the daughter of a famous child-rearing expert.  But sometimes Emmy wishes she had a normal mom–or at least that her mom spent less time on her work and more time paying attention to the things Emmy is interested in.  When her mom announces that she has accepted a job on a reality TV program and that Emmy will have to go to boarding school on the other side of the ocean, it seems like proof that her mom’s work is more important than she is.  It makes her feel a little bit less guilty about the secret she’s been keeping from her mom: the mysterious note and the box of “relics” from her long-absent father.  “Keep them safe,” the note commanded.  Emmy never knew her father, has no idea what these “relics” are, and doesn’t know who wrote the note or what kind of danger the mysterious writer anticipated.  But when she arrives at her new elite English boarding school, she begins to uncover more pieces of the mystery of who her father was, and in the middle of the web of secrets is a danger much more real and terrifying than Emmy could have imagined.

This intriguing start to a mystery series is a great middle-grade page turner.  The plot draws on common enough tropes–missing father, secret society, “heroic trio uncovering secrets at a boarding school” with a pleasant Harry Potter vibe–but what it lacks in originality, it makes up for in likable characters and an engaging mystery to puzzle out.  I look forward to the sequel!

THE PERFECT COUPLE by Elin Hilderbrand

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The maid of honor’s body washed up on the Nantucket beach the morning of the wedding.  It was the bride who found her.  Needless to say, the wedding was canceled.  Now it is up to the chief and his lead detective to interview the shell-shocked bridal party and figure out what happened.  The simplest explanation, of course, would be that it was an accident.  Girl has too much to drink, goes for a late night swim, washes up on the beach the next morning.  But what about the abandoned kayak that belongs to the father of the groom?  Why does the other bridesmaid seem so reluctant to discuss the MOH’s love life?  Why was the bride on the beach so early in the morning carrying a suitcase?  And where is the best man?  As the investigation unfolds, it becomes clear that everyone has at least one secret and no one is as perfect as they seem.

A character-driven mystery, this novel will appeal to some mystery fans, but also realistic fiction fans who like some good old-fashioned family dysfunction.  In the end, exactly what happened is less important than the complex web of relationships between the characters.  A fast and enjoyable summer read!

DEATH PREFERS BLONDES by Caleb Roehrig

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Margo started pulling heists because she was bored.  She certainly didn’t need the money, being the heir to the Manning fortune; in fact, the tabloid accounts of “Mad Margo,” the wild party girl, provide a useful cover for her real illegal activities.  The four acrobatic drag queens who form the rest of her team all definitely need the money, though, and when a job that could be worth millions falls into their laps, it is impossible to pass up, even though it involves breaking into the highly fortified mansion of a Russian mobster.  Unfortunately, although they pull off the heist unscathed, Margo underestimated the danger she has gotten them all into.  And when things at her father’s company take a dark turn, Margo suddenly finds herself in over her head with hitmen chasing her around the globe.  The only people she knows she can trust are her team, but she may need to take a chance on a young accountant who is quickly becoming more than just a friend.

The premise is gimmicky and the plot absurd, but it sure is a fun ride!  There is a weird balance of far-fetched action plot and intense, realistic character development, which made for strange pacing.  But once I got into it, I had trouble putting it down.  I’d recommend this novel to teen thriller fans.

If you liked Death Prefers Blondes, you might like Kristen Orlando or Ally Carter.

 

 

INTERPRETER OF MALADIES by Jhumpa Lahiri

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In a Pulitzer prize-winning collection of short stories, Lahiri explores themes of relationship and cultural identity through a variety of compelling characters.  A power outage seems to offer an opportunity for Shoba and Shukumar to reconnect after the stillbirth of their child disfigured their marriage.  A young girl forms a friendship with her family’s Pakistani houseguest as he waits for word of his own family, still in Dacca during a violent civil war.  A tour guide and interpreter observes the idiosyncrasies of the marriage of two Indian-American tourists and finds himself drawn to the seemingly disaffected wife.  An elderly, ailing refugee serves as the unofficial doorwoman for a Calcutta apartment building until the unexpected promotion of one of the residents leads the others to reconsider question their own social standing.  After conversations with her coworker, Miranda begins to see her affair with a handsome, married Bengali man in a different light.  Eliot experiences a fascinating new culture under the care of his new nanny, Mrs. Sen.  Sanjeev cannot understand his new wife’s delighted obsession with the Christian paraphernalia left hidden throughout their house by the previous occupants.  An ailing woman knows that a marriage would cure her strange illness, but her stingy cousin refuses to arrange one for her.  A young immigrant to America forms a friendship with his centenarian landlady as he struggles to connect with the wife his family chose for him.

The stories are beautifully told glimpses into Indian culture in America and abroad.  While the majority of them are somewhat contemplative with realistic, but not particularly uplifting endings, there are a couple of exceptions.  Pick up this book if you enjoy thought-provoking literary fiction.

WHEN THE TRUTH UNRAVELS by Ruthanne Snow

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Elin, Jenna, Ket, and Rosie have been best friends since forever.  But since Elin’s suicide attempt, the dynamic of their foursome has been somewhat changed as each of them struggles to process the event and tries to figure out how to be a friend to Elin now that they know she is not as happy-go-lucky as she always seemed.  They each wonder why Elin tried to end her life, but Elin won’t talk about it.  But on the night of senior prom, a frightening turn of events will force the friends to confront everything that they haven’t been talking about–because it turns out that Elin isn’t the only one who has been hiding something.

A balanced blend of suspense and compelling character development drives this story about relationships and identity.  Elin’s depression is realistically portrayed, as are her friends varied reactions to it as they struggle to understand what their friend is going through.  But the story is as much Jenna’s, Ket’s, and Rosie’s as it is Elin’s.  Each character has a struggle independent of Elin, and must therefore wrestle not only with their own issues, but with the desire to put their own lives on the back burner to help their friend–something which is not always possible or healthy.   For me, this book was a page turner and thoroughly enjoyable.  The ending was a bit forced and expository, but since the real point of the book was the journey to get there, I didn’t find it disappointing.  I highly recommend this novel to teens who enjoy realistic fiction.

 

A MAN CALLED OVE by Fredrik Backman

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Ove is ready to leave the monotony of this life behind.  He is tired of making his morning rounds to insure that all of the neighbors are abiding by the residential association’s rules.  He is particularly tired of dealing with people, most of whom he finds to be incompetent and lazy.  And most of all, he misses Sonja, who has been dead for six months now.  As soon as his affairs are in order, he has resolved to join her.  That is, until some new neighbors move in and drive their vehicle down into the residential area (although the sign Ove installed clearly states that this is a violation of the rules!) and back into his mailbox.  Somehow, the reluctant Ove gets swept up into their lives and reinvested in his community which, as it turns out, needs him as much as he needs them.

This international bestseller is humorous, quirky, feel-good book about the importance of community and relationships.  Engaging and occasionally absurd plot threads propel this story about a diverse cast of unconventional but lovable characters.  I highly recommend it to adult readers of realistic fiction who like humor in their thought-provoking novels.