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Nina George, author most recently of The Little French Bistro and before that The Little Paris Bookshop has captured the novel market on Lost Souls. Just like Jean Perdu in The Little Paris Bookshop, Marianne, the sixty year old wife of Lothar, is lost. In a loveless marriage for 41 years, she has suffered, hoping that her suffering is a sign of strength rather than lethargy and resignation.

On a trip to Paris, Marianne gets off her tour bus, wanders until she finds the perfect bridge over the Seine and jumps in…after carefully taking off her shoes, folding her coat and depositing her wedding ring into the shoe. Hoping to drift away and end her suffering, unfortunately she is saved by a nearby vagrant and taken to a local hospital.

Having been diagnosed as being unstable, she sees no alternative but to return to her husband until she realizes, on the spur of the moment, that she can merely walk out of the building. She walks and rides, her destination the port city of Kerdruc in Brittany (I’ll let you read the book to find out why) where, of course, marvelous things happen.

As in The Little Paris Bookstore, The Little French Bistro (apparently called The Little Breton Bistro in the French version–click the link for a little more detailed synopsis), there are many lost souls in Kerdruc and Marianne touches the lives of each of them in ways she could never imagine. In the course of doing so, she discovers herself and realizes/hopes that at 60 years of age, it is not too late to live a full and happy life.

Ms. George has created memorable characters from the boorish Lothar to Simon, Jean-Remy and all the inhabitants of Kerdruc. She weaves some mythology and superstition into her narrative, told in the third person. She balances Marianne’s desire to be independent for the first time in her life against her desire to be loved as she or any woman deserves, also for the first time in her life.

The Little French Bistro has love and loss. It covers many of our basic emotions. It attacks our universal stupidity in matters of the heart. It begs us to reach out.

While Ms. George, at times, can get a little wordy over love and its importance and the consequences of its success or failure, she creates an interesting world that I’ve not read about before. I’ll caution readers here, as I did in my review of The Little Paris Bookshop, that this really isn’t a guy’s book. But, on the other hand, it is a charming book and maybe any male readers brave enough to try it, might learn how to treat the fairer sex.

Ms. George’s books are quite the pair and you can’t go wrong reading them both.

I don’t know whether I didn’t enjoy The House of Fame, the third installment of the Nick Belsey series by Oliver Harris. It might have been because I read it in fits and starts (until I sped read — skimmed the last 100 pages) so I never got into the flow. It could be because it actually was disjointed and reading it in longer segments wouldn’t have helped. But, to me, it wasn’t a great book.

House

Quick summary (which I don’t think is a spoiler): Nick Belsey is a disgraced cop who is under investigation. Trying to keep a low profile, he is living in a disused police precinct/court house. While no one is supposed to know he’s there, someone does because a woman knocks on the door looking for him. Her son, Mark, has disappeared and she would like Nick’s help in trying to find him. Of course, he accepts, low profile be damned.

In searching Mark’s room, Belsey finds he has an obsession with a young star, Amber Knight. So, Belsey goes to her mansion, gets in under false pretenses and poses as a private security guard.

Let’s stop here and say that one thing leads to another which leads to another and bodies start piling up. The House of Fame then veers off course and instead of exploring the life, stalkers and murders of the rich and entitled, goes down a totally different, relatively unbelievable road.

Belsey gets into and out of jams with ease. He outsmarts everyone. He poses as a cop, a private investigator, etc. He’s always one step ahead of everyone else.

The House of Fame was a Publisher’s Weekly Star book which always leads me to wonder what they see that I don’t but whatever it is, I’m blind to it. So, I say to you, there are some great mysteries out there. If you try The House of Fame and love it, I’m glad. But if you don’t love it, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

 

 

The Sun is Also a Star, a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Michael L. Printz Award, by Nicola Yoon is a new spin on love at first sight, love in a day, etc. Natasha Kingsley is trying to save her family from deportation back to Jamaica. Daniel Jae Won Bae is on his way to get his haircut before his Yale admissions interview when fate intervenes. Seeing her from afar, he is intrigued by her, her huge afro, her absorption in the music she’s listening to through her big headphones.

TheSunIsAlsoAStar

Shy, he can’t go up to her and introduce himself, but fate steps in again when he saves her from being hit by a car as she crosses the street. Daniel, the poet, has fallen in love. Natasha, the pragmatist and scientist, hasn’t come close.

But, events work themselves out and they spend the day together. Yoon not only tells their story, but also ancillary stories: the security guard at USCIS (U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service), the secretary for Natasha’s immigration lawyer, their parents and siblings. Chapters alternate between Daniel and Natasha, with asides about various people, theories, etc.

Yoon also explores the complicated Korean American family dynamics and Jamaican American family dynamics–the thought of greener pastures in America and the wish of immigrants that their children have a better life than they had.

Will Daniel go to Yale? Will Natasha stay in the United States? Will it require a parallel universe to keep these lovebirds together? The only way you’ll know is by reading The Sun is Also a Star.

For a similar, totally enjoyable book about love in a day, try Jennifer E. Smith’s The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight.

TheStatisticalProbability

OK, so I have to put my two cents in. Is The Sun is Also a Star award worthy or finalist worthy? I don’t know. It certainly was an enjoyable read. The characters suck you in and never let go. It does deal with complicated issues such as family dynamics, parents forcing careers on their children, deportation, love. Yet, despite this, I found the book to be light and fluffy. Since both the National Book Award and the Michael L. Printz Award are “literary” awards, I’m not sure The Sun is Also a Star fits the categories. If this was a popularity contest, by all means. So, you decide for yourself. Let me know your thought.

Colin Dexter

It is with extreme sadness that I read about the recent death of Colin Dexter, creator of Inspector Morse. I was a big fan of both the Inspector Morse books and TV series (somewhat less of a fan of the spinoff TV series Inspector Lewis).

ColinDexterJohn Thaw who was Morse and Colin Dexter

I highly recommend reading the books and watching the series. You won’t be disappointed. Below is a link to the BBC News obituary for Mr. Dexter. I hope he and Thaw are reuniting.

http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-39342698

 

I’m in a quandary about The Paris Architect by Charles Balfoure. It is a well written book with a great premise…but…the description of Gestapo brutality to Jews, collaborators, those helping Jews or collaborators, while the truth, was just too much for me to read about. My brutality threshold is very low. Low enough that I couldn’t finish the book. On top of that, the thought of a character you like going through that brutality was enough to make me bag the book.

I first heard of Charles Belfoure at Librarian’s Day of Dialog at Book Expo several years ago. His  book, House of Thieves, was just coming out and it had a great premise. An architect by background, Belfoure’s books combine a love of buildings with an interesting premise, making them quite different from the ‘run of the mill’ books we constantly read.

In The Paris Architect, Belfoure transported a historical occurrence from the reign of Elizabeth I into World War II.  According to the Author Q & A at the back of the book, “During the reign of Elizabeth I, Catholicism was repressed and the saying of Mass was outlawed. But priests…refused to obey and continued to worship in secret in manor houses. As a precaution, carpenters designed and constructed “priest holes” for them to hide in if the house was discovered.

In The Paris Architect, Lucien Barnard, an out of work architect is reluctantly recruited by Auguste Manet to build hiding places that would be undetected by Gestapo searching homes. The promise of bigger jobs through which Lucien can showcase his talent has an allure that he can’t refuse. He has no particular love of the Jews; just the opposite. He considers them worthless. However, as time goes on, the challenge of building more sophisticated hiding places, takes hold.

That’s enough of the plot. Belfoure’s love of architecture and buildings is apparent throughout the book…which is a part of what I enjoyed with House of Thieves. Belfoure flushes out his characters well. Some are likeable and some totally not. He builds a good foundation (pun intended) for a plot that keeps you riveted. And while I would like to see what happens to certain characters, when I start skipping chapters because of brutality, it’s time to put the book down.

In conclusion, if you have a high threshold for brutality and pain and if you like a well written book with a well crafted plot (who doesn’t) then I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend The Paris Architect.

 

Times were tough in 1907 England and Beck’s mother did what she needed to survive. One encounter with a passing sailor resulted in Beck’s birth. He never knew his father. One month before his eleventh birthday, “…his grandparents and his mother and his daft kindly uncle all died in the flu epidemic. Anne [his mother] was the last to go.” Beck was taken to the Catholic orphanage, “…run by the methodically cruel Sisters of Mercy.” Being of mixed race, Beck was victimized both by the Sisters as well as other orphans. One March morning in 1922 he was transferred to the Christian Brotherhood Home for Boys. However, his tenure was short lived when he spurned the advances of one of the priests. He was unceremoniously put on a vessel bound for Canada to work on a farm, an activity totally foreign to him. His sponsors were cruel and bigoted and at the first opportunity, Beck escaped to wander through Canada trying to survive.

Beck, started by Mal Peet and completed by Meg Rosoff after his death, is a marvelous tale of a boy beaten down at every turn, whose self-image is destroyed by his ‘protectors’, trying to find his way in the world. It is an adventure story as well as a love story, although love is a foreign concept to him. Both Mal Peet and Meg Rosoff both are excellent writers as you can see by the quotes I included in this review. Readers will feel Beck’s torture, both physical and emotional. They will experience his physical hardships but will also rejoice when he discovers what true love is. Beck will be enjoyed by fans of Mal Peet, historical fiction and adventure.

Tamar and Life: An Exploded Diagram are the only Mal Peet books I’ve read, both of which I enjoyed. They are vastly different books from each other as well as from Beck. The publisher’s description of Tamar is: “When her grandfather dies, Tamar inherits a box containing a series of clues and coded messages. Out of the past, another Tamar emerges, a man involved in the terrifying world of resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied Holland half a century before. His story is one of passionate love, jealousy, and tragedy set against the daily fear and casual horror of the Second World War — and unraveling it is about to transform Tamar’s life forever”. It, too, is full of adventure, has a romantic component, and is extremely well written. It is one of my favorite books.

My suggestion is: read any Mal Peet books you can get your hands on.

Rather Be the Devil by Ian Rankin

As Detective Inspector John Rebus, retired, talks to his medical examiner girlfriend, Deborah Quant, over dinner in the Caledonian Hotel restaurant, he recalls the murder there, over thirty years ago, of a young woman, Maria Turquand. The killer was never caught. With nothing but time on his hands, Rebus decides to investigate the case, imploring his former coworker, Siobhan Clarke to  bring him the cold case files.

RatherBeTheDevil.jpg

The day after Rebus chats with police officer, Robert Chatham, who years previously spearheaded a review of the case when new evidence was introduced, said Officer Chatham’s dead body was found washed up on shore, Rebus surmises it has something to do with his cold case.

How this cold case can be made to intersect with Clarke’s new assault and battery case perpetrated against known gangster Darryl Christie, only an experienced mystery writer such as Rankin can achieve.

Rather Be the Devil reunites Rebus with his co-workers, Clarke and Malcolm Fox. In addition, he meets up with his ‘friendly enemies’, Christie and Big Ger Cafferty. I haven’t read any of Rankin’s previous novels, so I was unfamiliar with the history of Rebus and his cohorts. While such knowledge wasn’t necessary to enjoy the book, it would have been nice. In addition, one arc of the story deals with issues surrounding Rebus’ health, which again, I had no familiarity.

The first 50 or so pages of Rather Be the Devil were a little slow, until the story got going. Then it was a reasonably fast read. The characters were well fleshed out, although I kept getting them confused with each other (Christie/Cafferty). The plot was interesting. Apparently Rebus never played by the rules, which he certainly does not in this episode.

While Rather Be the Devil was an enjoyable and satisfying read, I don’t know that I’d run out and start from the first book in the series (this is #21) or even line up to read the next in the series, if/when that is published. I think I’m more of a Peter Robinson/Inspector Banks fan.