Fiction

COMEDY IN A MINOR KEY by Hans Keilson

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Wim and Marie took a great risk welcoming Nico into their home.  Although most people in Holland disapproved of the Nazi occupation, to hide a Jew was a particularly dangerous form of resistance.  But after only a year, they discovered that the only thing more challenging than hiding a live Jew is disposing of a dead one.

Comedy in a Minor Key identifies itself as a “black comedy,” but that label might be misleading.  The novella presents a heartrending situation bluntly with a cold, bitter irony that highlights the absurdity of the situation.  The brief story begins with Nico’s death, then uses flashbacks to provide glimpses of prior events, the challenges, the growing relationships, the emotions and motivations, and the community that developed around hiding a Jew.  It is a short and thought-provoking read that isn’t quite as dark and horrific as much World War II fiction.

RECKLESS by Cornelia Funke

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After his father disappeared, twelve-year-old Jacob sneaked into his study searching for answers.  Instead he found a magic mirror.  For twelve years, Jacob journeyed back and forth from his own world to the Mirrorworld, a parallel dimension where dark fairy tales became real: questers can sell magical objects on the black market, dangerous fairies seek human lovers, and sleeping princesses decay in eternal sleep, waiting for princes who never arrive.

For Jacob, the Mirrorworld is an escape from everything that he does not want to face in his own world.  But when his younger brother, Will, follows him and is wounded by a stone Goyl, everything changes.  As Will begins to turn to jade stone, Jacob and the fox-girl who loves him have to guide Will and Will’s fiancee, Clara, through his dangerous world, hoping to find a cure, though he is fairly sure none exists.  Meanwhile Goyl army, led by the Dark Fairy, race to find the jade Goyl who has been prophesied to protect their king and lead them to victorious dominion over the human empire.

Based in a German fairy tale tradition that is already fairly dark, Funke’s Mirrorworld is chilling and grotesque.  The book is marketed for teens, and will certainly appeal especially to an older teen audience, although adults who enjoy these kinds of twisted fairy tale fantasies will find the characters very accessible as well.  I enjoyed reading this book very much.  

If you liked Reckless, you might like Dreamwood by Heather Mackey or Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu (both for a slightly younger audience).

THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

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In post-World War II London, Juliet Ashton is trying to focus on her career as a writer and to figure out how to deal with Mr. Markham Reynolds, the stranger who has been sending her flowers, when she receives a slightly unusual letter.  A man living on the Channel Island of Guernsey has come into possession of a used book that used to belong to her.  He loves it so much that he has written to see if she has suggestions for further reading.  As their friendly correspondence grows into a friendship, Juliet begins to learn about the impact that the German occupation has had on the lives of the islanders, and of the sometimes humorous ways that they resisted their German conquerors.

This book is a charming, hopeful story of friendship and romance, told through a series of letters between Juliet, Dawsey (of Guernsey), and their other acquaintances.  It is a light read, and could be good for a book group.

SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi

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In Nailer’s world, you need luck to survive.  You can be small and able to work on light crew, stripping copper from shipwrecks for low pay.  Or you can be strong on heavy crew, breaking down the larger metal salvage.  But if you get an infection, you won’t be able to get medication, and you’ll die of fever.  If you get stuck inside a wreck you’ll drown, or choke in the dust and oil, and the rats will eat you.  Of course, even if you have no bad luck and are smart enough to do everything right, you still die on the beach sooner or later.  Unless you get a really lucky strike. . . .

After a huge “city killer” hurricane, Nailer and Pima find an isolated wreck and hurry to get the first scavenge.  But when they find a rich girl still alive, they have to make a choice.  Pima suggests two options: cut the ringed fingers off her swollen hands while she’s alive, or slit her throat first.  The girl is, after all, a great scavenge–a true lucky strike.  With just the gold rings on her fingers they could feed themselves and more—maybe never have to work again.  But Nailer chooses to save her instead, knowing that this decision might be the last he ever makes.   Now he and “Lucky Girl” must somehow escape the clutches of her rich father’s corporate enemies and Nailer’s abusive, drug-addict father who wants to turn Lucky Girl in for ransom.

This post-apocalyptic vision of Earth’s future is very violent and very dark.  Bacigalupi explores the meaning of family and loyalty and challenges readers to reflect on human treatment of the environment and the extreme gap in wealth and lifestyle between the heads of corporations and the lowest level industry workers.  Ship Breaker took the 2011 Printz Award (for Young Adult Literature) and was a finalist for the National Book award.  It is a great read for teens and adults.

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME by Mark Haddon

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Seven minutes after midnight, Christopher John Francis Boone found a dead dog outside of Mrs. Shears’ house, stabbed straight through with a garden fork.  Since Christopher’s teacher had encouraged him to write a story, he decides to write a murder mystery: an account of his own investigations into the dog’s death.  Despite his father’s command that he “stay out of other people’s business,” he sets out to detect who killed the dog—and ends up uncovering a host of family secrets in the process.

Christopher has Asperger’s syndrome.  The entire novel is told in his voice in a stream-of-consciousness style which gradually reveals the details of his life to the reader.  The book examines both the challenges that Christopher faces in relating to his family and those around him and the beauty of his world and his unique and brilliant perspective on life.  Mark Haddon, who has worked with children on the autism spectrum, crafts the story masterfully around the murder mystery framework.  Christopher’s voice is believable and clear, and his experiences range from humorous to heartbreaking.  I highly recommend it!

APPALOOSA by Robert B. Parker

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Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch don’t just enforce the law.  They are the law.  When they pass through a town that’s been having problems, they take over the justice system and clean the town up as sheriff and deputy.  They’ve done it again and again.  It’s a clean, easy system for Cole and Everett.  When they come to Appaloosa to take care of a renegade rancher, they assume it will be the same.  But they didn’t count on Allie French.

Gunfights, bandits, love triangles, kidnappings, and betrayals add adventure to a book that is, at its heart, a study of honor and friendship.  This was my first time reading a Western, and I have to say, I loved every minute of it!  Parker creates a sense of atmosphere and place through spare language and deliberate punctuation.  The pace is slow and laid-back and the tension of verbal confrontations leaps off the page.  If you like fast-paced books, this will probably frustrate you.  But if you like Westerns, or would like to try a Western, this one is really well written and a fun read.  I highly recommend it.  It is the first in a series.

THE BONE COLLECTOR by Jeffrey Deaver

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Lincoln Rhyme was once the greatest forensic investigator the NYPD had ever seen.  That was before the accident that left him paralyzed and bedridden—only able to move one finger.   Although he once delighted in the intellectual puzzle of criminology, Lincoln Rhyme now desires only one thing:  his own death.   But when the NYPD asks for his help tracking down a serial killer with a strange fascination with human bones, Rhyme cannot resist taking a crack at the bizarre case—especially as it becomes clear that this serial killer is leaving clues specifically for Rhyme himself.  Energized by the mystery and his new partnership with the incredibly strong-willed and clever police officer Amelia Sachs who serves as his “arms and legs,” Rhyme postpones his assisted suicide and takes up the race to find the pattern behind the serial killer’s madness before he can claim another victim.

This mystery is a fast paced thriller with emphasis on the forensic aspects of detective work.  The characters are compelling and while enough information is provided for the reader to piece the mystery together, there are also enough twists and turns to keep you guessing.   Don’t read this book if you are squeamish; the serial killings are described in detail.  But if you like a good mystery thriller, I highly recommend it.  It is the first in the Lincoln Rhyme series.

If you like forensic thrillers, you might like books by Tess Gerritsen.