July 31, 2013

Books of the Week:

  • A Stranger in the Family, Robert Barnard
  • Hunted, Kevin Hearne
  • Disturbance, Jan Burke
  • The Painted Girls, Cathy Marie Buchanan

Robert Barnard is one of the noted British crimewriters of the past two decades, and he continues to be a fine read in A Stranger in the Family. Kip Philipson, a young Scot, discovers when his mother is dying that he was adopted. He further discovers that he was not only adopted, but abducted, and that his real name is Peter Novello. He finds his birth family, and much, much more. The story behind his life begins with his father and his father’s sister getting out of Germany just in time, sent to England as part of the Kindertransports. As Kit investigates, the monstrous truth emerges. This is one of Barnard’s quieter books, but it has plenty of moments that are startling.

 

I really enjoy Kevin Hearne’s books, and he’s quite consistently entertaining. Hunted is the sixth novel about Druid Atticus O’Sullivan and his hound Oberon. And now Atticus has apprenticed Granuaile, who becomes a Druid in her own right. But a peaceful life is not in the cards for Atticus and Granuaile, who are always on the run and always ready for battle. Luckily, Atticus is beyond tricky, and Granuaile is gaining her own skills at a great pace . . . and they’ll need all of their talents to survive.

 

For many years, Jan Burke has been a writer of excellence. I’m not happy that Disturbance is the first book of hers I’ve mentioned here. Irene Kelly, reporter and wife to Frank, a policeman, has been recovering from PTSD after her last traumatizing encounter with serial killer Nick Parish. Just when her job at the Last Piernas newspaper seems in danger, Irene receives the worst possible information: Nick Parish has escaped. And he’s coming for her. I won’t detract from the genuine suspense and tension of this fine novel by unfolding more of the plot, but if it’s a Burke novel you can be sure it’s a good one.

 

The Painted Girls is a reach for me, but I’m glad I was interested enough by a review of this book to include it on my reading list. If you’ve ever looked at one of Degas’s paintings of young girls in ballet classes in Paris, you’ll want to give Cathy Marie Buchanan’s book a try. In 1887, three sisters struggle to survive when their father dies and their mother, a laundress, resorts to drugs to get through her existence. All three have been or are enrolled at the Paris Opera school of dance, so they can receive a trifling salary every month. This is a book which fully immerses the reader in a time and place very different from our own, but Buchanan makes it live for us.

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I admit that I was nervous when I went to the UK on a trip with a multiple purpose: I’d been invited to Harrogate to the famous annual crime festival, and my UK publisher (Orion’s imprint Gollanz) wanted to tour me for DEAD EVER AFTER while I was in the UK. Due in part to my daughter’s graduation from college, I didn’t tour the US for my last Sookie novel. (After the huge storm over the book, I could only be relieved I hadn’t.)

 

Happily for me, since I am not at heart a confrontational person, my UK readers attending the signings were absolutely wonderful. I could not have asked for a more pleasant and heartening audience at each and every stop. The Harrogate festival itself was a lot of fun: I got to meet Ian Rankin and Kate Atkinson. I got to talk to old acquaintances Lee Child and Val McDermid — and to say hello to a great favorite of mine, G.M. Malliet. I also had dinner with some other Orion authors I hadn’t met before, and I really look forward to reading their books. My publicist, Jon Weir, made smooth my path and was generally wonderful.

 

After all my professional events concluded, it was a lot of fun to sit back and enjoy touring as a . . . well, a tourist. My husband and I saw: Blenheim, one of the chalk horses, Avebury, parts of Cornwall, the Harry Potter studio tour, the Pompeii exhibit at the British Museum, and the London production of “The Book of Mormon,” which was just as funny as the Broadway version. We had dinner at The Trout Inn, frequented by writers as diverse as Lewis Carroll and C.S. Lewis, and enjoyed the food and ambience very much. We just had a great time.

 

Now that I’m home and settling back into my routine, finishing “Midnight Crossroad” has moved to the top of my list of things to do. I’m sadly behind, but I had some ideas while we were being driven around England that may really help the book come together. Now to put all these ideas on the computer to see if they work . . .

 

Sigh. Vacation’s over. Nose to the grindstone.

 

Charlaine Harris