Archive for the ‘Ivy Pochoda’ Category

I’ve been reading mysteries for decades and I’ve yet to come across a body found 50 feet upInvisibleCity in a crane in the midst of a salvage yard…that is until Invisible City, a debut novel by Julia Dahl. Rebekkah Roberts, a stringer for the New York Tribune is sent to the scene.

Nobody is talking but she gets the crane operator to describe seeing a leg dangling out of the scrap in the crane. The  salvage yard is owned by a Hasidic Jew, Aron Mendelssohn. The police converge as does the M.E., an ambulance and an ambulance with Hebrew lettering on it…which is the one that carries away the body.

According to Jewish law, the dead are buried very quickly. With the help of a rogue cop, Rebekkah is allowed to see the badly bruised body in the funeral home prior to burial. It is murder. There are no two ways about it. And it turns out to be Aron’s wife, Rivka.

There are two stories going on in Invisible City. The first is Rivka’s exploration outside of her Hasidic roots. The second is Rebekkah’s mother, Aviva’s similar exploration, which resulted in a liaison with her father, the product of which is Rebekkah. However, Aviva abandoned her child and returned to her family, something that Rebekkah has yet to come to terms with.

There are many (well, maybe several) series about newspaper reporters solving crimes. This is a new spin with the fact that Rebekkah is a rookie and she’s dealing with the very insular Hasidic community. Dahl has created a great set of characters in Rebekkah, her friend Iris, her boyfriend Tony and rogue cop Saul Katz. The Brooklyn locale always interests me. This is not as gritty as Visitation Street by Iva Pochoda, which takes place in Red Hook, very close to the Gowanus locale of Invisible City.

I’m assuming this is going to be a series and I look forward to the next installment. I highly recommend both of the books mentioned: Invisible City by Julia Dahl and Visitation Street by Iva Pochoda.






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EndOfThePointI just want to congratulate Elizabeth Graver. Her The End of the Point was on Kirkus’ Best Fiction of 2013 list. The other book I want to note is Ivy Pochoda’s Visitation Street. Another book worthy of being on the list. Finally, congratulations to all the authors and books on the list.VisitationStreet

The Young Adult List comes out in early December. I can’t wait for that one.

Here’s the link to the fiction list, if you’re interested. https://www.kirkusreviews.com/issue/best-of-2013/section/fiction/

Happy reading.


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SandrinesCaseSam Madison arrives home after teaching his night class at Coburn College, outside of Atlanta, to find his wife, Sandrine, dead in her bed, the result of an overdose of Demerol, antihistamines and alcohol (although he doesn’t necessarily know this at the time). As the police delve into the case, questions arise as to whether this apparent suicide, was indeed, suicide.

This scenario in hands other than Thomas H. Cook, could have resulted in a police procedural ready made for TV Columbo style. However, Mr. Cook, in his unique fashion, has crafted a mystery that pokes into Sam’s and Sandrine’s psyche, fleshes out their lives, and gives you glimpses into their inner turmoil.

Sandrine’s Case starts on Day 1 of Sam’s murder trial. As prosecution witnesses take the stand, you don’t hear their testimony. You relive Sam’s encounters with each one, the police officer, the detective, etc. as he recalls these encounters. You ponder what he ponders, as his mind wanders through possibilities, reminiscences, theories, projections. Just as in Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda (which I just finished and blogged about), there is a mystery. But that is not the reason for these books. Visitation Street probes the neighborhood of Red Hook and the lives of the few major characters who intersect the mystery. In Sandrine’s Case, readers explore the minds of the characters who intersect the mystery of Sandrine’s death. That is the reason to be for these books and that is one reason why you must read them.

Another reason is the writing. Mr. Cook is a master story teller. His descriptions are superb, such as “I’d noticed that his teeth were badly crooked, like rows of tilted tombstones in a desecrated cemetery.” How much more visual can you get?

There are writers that churn out book after book. You can count on them for one every six months or a year, like clockwork. Then there are those who seemingly take whatever time is required to put the right word in the right order on the page and you wait with anticipation both for the next words and the next book, not knowing when it will arrive. Thomas H. Cook is one of the latter authors. Fatherhood and Other Stories, FatherhoodAndOtherStorieswhich I recently finished, was a surprise. I didn’t even know it was coming out. Sandrine’s Case has been on my ‘must read’ list for months, since I knew beforehand when it was going to be published. Now, I have to wait for an unknown, but way too long a time for Mr. Cook’s next book. Maybe, as I’ve wanted to do for quite some time, I’ll reread TheChathamSchoolAffairThe Chatham School Affair which launched my love of his writing.

To conclude, I’ve just mentioned four books you must read: Sandrine’s Case, Fatherhood and Other Stories and The Chatham School Affair by Thomas H. Cook and Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda. What are you waiting for? Get started. You’ve got a lot a reading to do!!

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Visitation Street is the second book published under Dennis Lehane’s new imprint at Harper Collins. My feeling: VisitationStreetif it’s good enough for Dennis, it’s good enough for me. That can be a dangerous philosophy but in this particular case, it worked quite well. I don’t think I’m ruining anything by saying that two fifteen year old girls take a rubber raft out on the bay at the end of Red Hook in Brooklyn and only one comes back.

Is there a mystery? Sure. But is that what makes this story so good? Not at all. Ms. Pochoda has explored a way of life; the life in Red Hook through several characters that interact with and have an impact on Valerie, the girl who returns. Through these characters, Ms. Pochoda portrays the evident racial divide in Red Hook, the secrets that people hold inside and the reasons for their actions, and the yearnings that they have for a life different than the one they’re living.

As in life, some of the characters are sad examples of what we do to ourselves, some striving for better and some are just so lost.

I started reading this book in fits and starts but that wasn’t doing it justice. When I finally had time to sit and really read, I got sucked in big-time. I didn’t want to put this book down. I suggest that you do the same…find a length of time to read.

Ms. Pochoda can certainly turn a phrase. For instance, describing what a summer’s night in Red Hook is like, “It’s a hot night in a calendar of hot weeks.” Describing a ceiling in the projects, “He opens his eyes to the water map on the ceiling, the brown and yellow bubbles tracing the pathways of his upstairs neighbor’s leaky plumbing.” Or describing Valerie at the entrance to the Tabernacle Church, “They take in her uniform and her lanky frame–her pale skin and unremarkable hair. A drab piece of flotsam lost in a sea of Sunday color.”  To me, that’s good writing.

My only criticism, and it’s minor. There’s a small map of Red Hook at the beginning of the book. I figured that bigger is better so I did an internet search for a street map of Red Hook. However, with the map in hand, I still couldn’t quite grasp which way the characters were going and what was where in Red Hook. Was it important? Probably not, but as an anal-retentive, and since the book was equally about the place as well as the characters, I wanted to get the entire experience. Don’t let this bog you down, though.

As an aside: I didn’t realize that I travel through Red Hook when I go visit the kids in Brooklyn. Who woulda thunk?

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