The King of Infinite Space by Lyndsay Faye

An amazing retelling of Hamlet that makes the original more comprehensible to a modern audience, The King of Infinite Space is the ultimate read for those who loved reading Shakespeare in high school, those who (like me) are suckers for a good retelling, and those who just live for drama, love triangles, family intrigue, yearning, sinister dreams, and yes, murder.

Here’s the gist: the Hamlet character in this case is Benjamin Dane, son of oil tycoon and theater magnate Jackson Dane, recently deceased. Benjamin is spiraling because his manipulative mother, Trudy Dane, has suddenly married his annoying uncle, Claude Dane, AND his ex-fiancée, Lia, has recently started appearing in his dreams, an unwilling participant in some kind of psychic link revisiting the fire that traumatized their shared childhood. In order to have any kind of support, Benjamin summons back to New York his estranged best friend Horatio, who fled home to London after his longtime crush on Benjamin culminated in a one-night-stand that neither of them knew how to deal with.

That’s already a lot, right? And that’s just the setup – the whole book spirals, like water around a drain, toward a gala event that Trudy and Claude Dane are hosting to celebrate their marriage / honor Jackson Dane’s contributions to his theater company. Benjamin is trying to find out whether his mother, uncle, or anyone else contributed to his father’s fatal overdose, while Horatio desperately tries to keep him alive and sane. Lia, on the other hand, has become caught up in the machinations of three enigmatic sisters and their (for lack of a better word) frenemy as they all seek to influence the outcome of the doomed gala. There are secrets and deceptions and half-truths GALORE that need to be unearthed before the book comes to its inevitable (but still surprising) conclusion.

Personally I thought that Faye knew exactly where to be faithful to the spirit of the original and where to deviate. For example, Lia’s role is a a great interpretation of the role of Ophelia, with certain improvements including rounding out her personality more and giving her more power over the narrative. For another, Horatio and Ben’s complicated platonic/romantic relationship seems to just make explicit what Shakespeare strongly implies in the original (depending on how you read it). In another important point, Faye also uses typeface and writing style to great effect in Ben’s chapters, moving the text around on the page in various ways to reflect his neurodivergence and unique experience of the world. If you’re into murder mysteries, modernized classic lit, and lush magical realism, you’ll probably love this book.

Death at the Crystal Palace by Jennifer Ashley

British cook and amateur sleuth Kat Holloway returns in the latest mystery by Jennifer Ashley,  taking place in and around London during the early 1900s.  Death at the Crystal Palace is the fifth book in the Below Stairs Mystery  series which focuses on the “downstairs” staff headed by cook Holloway and the rest of the staff,  whose lives intertwine with the “upstairs” aristocratic class and estate owners.  Kat and the rest of the below stairs staff keep the manor house running smoothly.  Kat spends her days preparing complex delicacies for the aristocratic family for whom she works.  Her position within the household makes for long hours in the kitchen, sometimes cooking for dozens of  household members and their numerous guests.  With all her obligations, she still finds the time to help solve a mystery or two.

Death at the Crystal Palace opens with Kat accompanying one member of the household, Lady Cynthia, to an academic lecture at the Crystal Palace in London.  At the conclusion of the lecture, Lady Covington, the widow of a railway owner, approaches Kat and declares that someone in her household is trying to poison her.  She is adamant that she needs Kat’s sleuthing skills to help find the culprit.  Kat is immediately suspicious of the claim.  Is Lady Covington being targeted by someone in household or is it all in her head?  Kat makes arrangements with Lady Covington to make a secretive visit to her household under the guise of recipe sharing with the Covington family cook, in order to find out more about the possible plot.

After learning more about the Covington family and their possible motivations for wanting to bring harm to the matriarch of the family, Kat finds herself yet again, at the Crystal Palace for an academic event.  With all the Covington family in attendance and able to be observed, Kat discovers another member of the family near death as the result of an attempted poisoning .

While tending to the crisis at hand, Kat’s close confidant, Daniel McAdam, is up to his neck  in his own case and recruits Kat to assist him in much larger matters of national security.  Toggling between the matter of Lady Covington’s potential poisoning and assisting Daniel with his undercover endeavor, Kat is at risk of having her true identity discovered which could potentially have catastrophic consequences for the future!

This series keeps getting better and better with each book.  Author Jennifer Ashley not only gives the reader a complex and intricate mystery to solve, the series is also a great example of historical fiction, detailing the lives and customs of the British at the turn of the last century.  Although this book is able to be read as a stand alone mystery, I highly recommend starting with the first book in the series Death Below Stairs.

 

Get Graphic Series: The Adoption by Zidrou

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “graphic novel”? Comic books? Japanese manga? A book with pictures and not much to read? While those answers are correct, graphic novels are so much more than what you may think! Graphic novels can be memoirs, fiction, biographies, nonfiction, or adaptations.

For a reader who doesn’t have time to knock out a 400 page novel, graphics are the perfect alternative! I love to read graphics when I want something quick and easy. But don’t let “quick and easy” fool you- graphic novelist have a way of putting a lot of story in just a few lines!

In this series I will be highlighting adult graphic novels that fall outside the comic book and Japanese manga categories.

First up is The Adoption by Zidrou. This graphic novel follows the story of Gabriel, a retired butcher whose life flips upside down when his son adopts a Peruvian orphan, Qinaya. Gabriel is your typical retiree; he workouts with his friends at the local park, he reads with his wife before bed, and he tends to his vegetable garden. Gabriel was absent for most of his children’s lives, so when Qinaya starts spending more time at Gabriel’s house, he isn’t sure how to handle it. As Qinaya and Gabriel begin to bond, an unexpected visit changes everything. Gabriel must face his own past in order to overcome the new challenges in his retired life.

The Adoption  is a great pick for first time graphic novel readers. The story highlights family, friends, love, and loss. I did not know what to expect out of the story and Zidrou kept me intrigued until the very end. When I finished reading, I found myself reflecting on my own family and the relationships I have with them.

Alongside beautiful illustrations, The Adoption provides an intimate portrait of life during retirement and how the little things can matter the most.

Online Reading Challenge – July

Greetings Challenge Readers!

It’s time for a new Author in our Challenge and this month it’s: Jodi Picoult!

A popular and prolific writer, Picoult will be on many favorite author lists. Picoult is a good storyteller, easily drawing the reader into her books which usually tackle difficult ethical dilemmas that throw ordinary families into extraordinary situations. A prolific author, some of her most popular titles include My Sister’s Keeper (organ donation), Nineteen Minutes (a school shooting), Small Great Things (racism), A Spark of Light (hostage situation) and Vanishing Acts (parental kidnapping). In each, Picoult is able to present a balanced view, trying to understand various points-of-view which lift them beyond good vs evil. They provide a great insight into some of the most troubling issues of our time.

There is no shortage of great books that tackle difficult topics. If you’ve already read everything by Picoult and/or would like to try a similar author, check out one of these titles. There will also be displays at all three buildings with these titles and more to consider.

This is How It Always Is by Frankel (transgender child)

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center (aging parents)

Dear Edward by Ann Napoliano (lone plane crash survivor)

Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen (domestic abuse)

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes (widowhood)

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian (medical trial)

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff (polygamy)

All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner (addiction recovery)

Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand (fatal car crash)

While these may seem to all be very depressing, in fact all of them offer hope and are a great way to understand a situation you may never encounter, but has affected others deeply.

I am planning on reading Nineteen Minutes about a school shooting, an event that has become far too common in the last few years. It was a hard decision though, as many of Picoult’s books are intriguing.

What about you, what will you be reading this month?

The Tenant by Katrine Engberg

Katrine Engberg’s debut mystery, The Tenant, is the first book in the exciting Korner and Werner series.  Another strong entry in the Scandinavian crime genre, Engberg’s debut focuses on  Danish detectives Jeppe Korner and his partner Anette Werner who reside in Copenhagen.  Their latest case involves a young woman, Julie, who has newly relocated to Copenhagen alongside her friend and roommate.  Julie is found murdered in her apartment after a night out with friends.  Julie’s murder has undertones of a ritualistic killing pointing to Danish history.  The detectives soon learn that the victim is a tenant in a building owned by a budding novelist, Esther de Laurenti, who just happens to be writing her first novel about a young women who is murdered.  Her main character bears more than a passing resemblance to Julie.  To complicate matters, Esther is a member of a writer’s group who share their writing with other members of the group and provide feedback to each other.  Did someone have access to one member’s computer and gain access to their writing or did Esther kill her tenant?

Since de Laurenti is still actively working on her novel when the murder occurs, suspicion again turns to her when a second murder occurs and the victim is another person close to her.  She quickly becomes the prime suspect but her motivation is unclear.  Esther de Laurenti’s life is extremely colorful, hosting lavish parties and events for a sampling of Copenhagen’s elite.  Could a fellow partygoer have a reason to frame Esther?  The detectives are convinced that the crimes will continue based on her newly finished prose and urge caution when Esther convinces them to let her write another chapter in order to entrap the killer.  Will the killer follow her storyline?

Looking into her past as well as Julie’s past reveals deep and dark family secrets that are decades old and have just come to light.  Old alliances and friendships are revealed and mistaken identities are divulged.  These revelations are coupled with detective Korner’s personal demons that run the risk of derailing the entire investigation when he becomes involved with someone close to the murders.

Filled with red herrings, mistaken identities and a possible killer that has a master plan for everyone involved, The Tenant is perfect for readers who are passionate about Scandinavian crime.  The second book in the series, The Butterfly House, was just translated into English and released earlier this year.  More books in the series are planned and I look forward to the complex and multilayered relationship between Detectives Korner and Werner.

 

 

The Cousins by Karen M. McManus

Karen McManus has done it again; the author of best-selling One of Us is Lying has another addictive showstopper with The Cousins, released in 2020. This standalone book tells the saga of an estranged wealthy family and their dark secrets, through the eyes of the youngest generation. Cousins Jonah, Aubrey, and Milly don’t really know each other, and they’ve never met their wealthy and mysterious grandmother Mildred, because she disowned their parents long before they were born, for reasons unknown. Now, she’s invited the three teens to spend the summer living and working at her resort as a chance to get to know them better – or so she says. Their parents insist they go, eager for a chance to get back in their mother’s good graces. However, once they arrive, the cousins quickly discover nothing is as it seems, as their family’s many secrets start to come to light.

As before, McManus’ characters sparkle as realistic, well-rounded individuals, and the plot is mostly relatable, though shot through with drama and glamour. Aubrey is an athlete reeling from a family betrayal, Milly is chasing a glamorous life but struggling for her mother’s approval, and Jonah is angry about his plans for summer science camp being derailed…among other things. Despite their vastly different personalities, they forge a strong bond as they team up against the summer’s mysteries and dangers. What I really liked was the interspersed chapters set in 1996 and told from Milly’s mother Allison’s perspective; these chapters tell of the events leading up to the disowning of Mildred’s children, make Allison and her brothers real and relatable, and help the main plot build to its climax in an unexpected way. It’s unclear from the ending if a sequel will be forthcoming, but personally, I wouldn’t be opposed.

If you’re looking for a thoroughly modern YA mystery with an Agatha Christie vibe, or if you’ve loved McManus’ other mysteries, or both, I definitely recommend you try reading The Cousins.

Online Reading Challenge – Wrap-Up

Hello Reading Fans!

We’ve finished up another month of the Reading Challenge. How did your month go reading-wise? Did you find something wonderful or was this an off month for you?

I read – and enjoyed – Delicious! by Ruth Reichl which follows the adventures of Billie Breslin. Billie has fled California and moved to New York City, taking a job as an assistant at the beloved food magazine Delicious. At first hesitant and lonely, she soon makes friends from among the colorful characters working at the magazine. They in turn introduce her to the hidden gems of food shops and markets that populate the neighborhood. Out from under the shadow of her sister, Billie begins to blossom and thrive.

However, all is not well at Delicious. One day the “suits” crunch the numbers and decide to shutter the magazine, leaving everyone out of a job except Billie, who agrees to stay on and answer any incoming correspondence for the next few months. Alone in the old mansion that served as the offices and kitchens for Delicious, Billie stumbles across a secret. A secret that might save the mansion and open new opportunities for herself.

Reichl was the last editor-in-chief of the now defunct Gourmet magazine and is a well-known food writer, including having published several critically acclaimed memoirs. Her writing about food and the rituals and joys of eating and sharing food are exquisite. I must have gained five pounds just reading her descriptions! Reichl’s ability to evoke not only the flavor of the food, but the ambiance of where and how it was created is astonishing. Food is shown as a form of love and fellowship, bringing people of diverse backgrounds together.

While I enjoyed Delicious! a lot, I felt that the characters weren’t always well-developed. In addition, there seemed to be an awful lot of mysteries – 6 or 7 at least – which made the book feel choppy. (And, quite frankly, her idea of how libraries work is bizarre!) However, the mysteries were intriguing and I wanted to keep reading to find out what happened! Instead read this book for its evocative descriptions of food and New York City neighborhoods.

How did your reading go this month? Did you find something wonderful? When I was pulling books for the displays this month I noticed that many food themed titles also had a lot to do with family and crossing cultural barriers. Food, good food prepared with care, has a way of uniting us. What did you discover this month’s?

Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand

Elin Hilderbrand’s books are the perfect combination of complex drama and noteworthy characters.  Her latest book, Winter in Paradise, is the first book in a planned three-part series.  At the beginning of the novel, we meet Irene Steel on a cold and snowy New Year’s in Iowa City.  Patiently waiting for her husband, Russ, to return from his business trip, she decides to meet a friend for an early dinner.  Irene’s world is turned upside down later that evening when she receives a cryptic phone call telling her that her husband has been killed in the Caribbean island of St. John in a helicopter crash.

Irene is blindsided with the news of her husband’s  unexpected death.  Not only did she think her husband was only a few states away for work, she had no idea why he would be on a small island in the Caribbean.  Irene, along with her two grown sons Baker and Cash, gather from across the country and make their way to the island to make the necessary arrangements.

Upon their arrival, Irene and her sons begin to learn the magnitude of Russ’ deception and delve unwillingly into his secret life.  The pieces of the puzzle all start to come together when the trio befriends various residents of the island and learn more about the husband and father that they thought they knew.  Along with the ripple effect of his death, the three must come to terms with secrets in their past too.  Just when the reader comes to end of the book, another exposed secret throws everything into a state of flux, setting the stage for the next book in the trilogy.  With the cliffhanger at the end of Winter in Paradise, I am anxiously awaiting book two in the series, which will hopefully be released this year!

 

A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper

It turns out there’s a cult following of Michelle Cooper’s Montmaray Journals series.  Now, I’m one of them.  The audio version of  A Brief History of Montmaray took me across several states (and back).  Sometimes I was so engrossed that I didn’t notice how low the gas gauge was – a lack of attention that can be dangerous on some stretches of South Dakota highway.

It’s written as the secret diary of (Princess) Sophie FitzOsborne,  one of the ruling family of the  island kingdom of Montmaray.

Sophie’s view of herself, and  her  family  evolves as she learns more of the tragedies surrounding her family’s history, including her aunt’s disappearance. The cast of characters include her very eccentric Uncle John (the king), her siblings and cousin – all  with their own obsessions and quirks. There’s a secret language that the cousins have developed – she encodes parts of her diary in this language, in case the book falls in the wrong hands. There are also secret tunnels, the possibility that the crumbling castle may have connections to the Holy Grail, a jeweled egg gifted by the Romanovs, and perilous rescues and invasions by sea and air.

It is 1936, and world events are overtaking the seclusion of the tiny country in the waters off the coasts of France and Spain,  in the Bay of Biscay. The remaining FitzOsbornes are very aware of the political turmoil in Europe, especially the Spanish Civil War and rising fascism in Germany.  German soldiers land on the shores of Montmaray one day, as part of the historical/archaeological research wing of the Nazis, and life is never the same again.

At the end of the first volume, there are still many mysteries to be solved.  I can’t wait to hear more from this charmingly eccentric family.

The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler

Accidental TouristIf you’re waiting for the new Anne Tyler, A Spool of Blue Thread, why not dip into the Tyler archive? Old friends like the charmingly odd Leary family are the center of The Accidental Tourist.

Macon, the travel writer who hates to leave home, moves in with his siblings when he breaks his leg. Macon, along with Rose, Charles and Porter resume their comfortable routines, including a card game so intricate only the three brothers and sister can master it.

Written in 1985, the absence of cell phones and answering machines allow Macon to leave his marital home and go off the grid. The Learys often ignore the ringing landline, so those looking for Macon are forced to show up at the door.

Air travel prior to 9/11 is also charmingly free of TSA regulations. Macon writes a series of books for the business traveler, and the chief goal is to replicate one’s home environment. His desire for order and quiet set him up for a collision with Muriel, who is a dog trainer, among other things.  She’s Macon’s equal in eccentricity – but on the other end of the spectrum. She’s outgoing and confessional, with considerably fewer boundaries than the Learys.

Though the tone is sometimes comic, there’s an undertone of sadness and complexity. In the recent past, Macon’s son was killed in a shoot-out at a fast food restaurant. Muriel has had to struggle all her adult life to patch together a life for herself and her young son.

Tyler’s gift is to create fascinating characters and then let them bounce off each other in unpredictable ways.