Slade House by David Mitchell
Readers who have enjoyed David Mitchell’s earlier novels, The Bone Clocks or Cloud Atlas, or who are looking for a haunted house story will be entertained by Slade House. Otherwise, you may be just as confused as young teen Nathan, college student Sally, or policeman Gordon when they open the tiny iron door in Slade Alley and enter the garden of Slade House. The door only appears every nine years on the last Saturday of October. Of course, things are not what they seem, more like Alice in Wonderland than Brigadoon, and eventually they encounter evil twins Jonah and Norah. Not nearly as substantial as his other books, Slade House is humorous and scary, but not very satisfying.
Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr
I really enjoyed reading this memoir of the year the author spent in Rome with his wife Shauna and their twin babies, Henry and Owen. The day the twins were born in Boise, Idaho, Anthony learned that he won the Rome Prize, providing an apartment, a writing studio, and a stipend for a year. He is best known for his Pulitzer prize-winning historical novel All the Light We Cannot See. Part of that novel was written during that year, but Rome kept distracting him. The subtitle is very descriptive: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World. Their apartment was in walking distance of St. Peter’s Square, and Pope John Paul II died while they were living in Rome. Struggling to communicate in Italian, the family is charmed by the warmth of the Italians they encounter, and stunned by the beauty and history of Rome. The struggles of writing are well detailed, but the main topics are Rome and life with young twins. I plan to read more of Doerr’s stories and essays, especially involving further travels with his family.
The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian
Cristina Rosati is 18 in 1943 when the war comes to Villa Chimera in the Tuscan hills south of Florence. Her brother Vittore works in Florence, trying to keep Italian antiquities safe and out of Germany. Brother Marco is an engineer with the Italian army in Sicily while his wife Francesca and their two children live with Cristina and her parents at the villa, where she swims, rides horseback, and plays with the children. After the Germans learn that there is an Etruscan tomb at Villa Chimera, they start visiting, and she meets a handsome German lieutenant. Also 18, orphaned Serafina is working with the Italian Resistance and is injured in an explosion. She has a connection to Villa Chimera that she’s forgotten, and is now a detective in 1955 Florence, where a murderer has begun stalking the Rosati women. The Rosatis had no easy choices to make during the war, and they didn’t all survive. Cristina and Serafina don’t know what secrets from the past may be haunting the Rosatis now. The most interesting part of the book for me was descriptions of life in Italy in 1943 and 1944. Some of the characters were more developed than others, such as Cristina’s father and brother Marco. The pace of the story intensifies, as the killer gets closer and the reader learns more of the events of 1944 at Villa Chimera. Beautiful settings, some appealing characters, with a story that kept my interest, but darker in tone and more gruesome than I expected.
Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
What is Night Vale? First it was a popular podcast set in a surreal town in the desert. Now it’s a book, audiobook, and ebook that fans of the podcast, along with the reader looking for something a little different, can enjoy. I’ve only listened to the first two podcasts, and it took me a little while to feel welcome in Night Vale. But once you visit there, it’s really hard to leave. Night Vale is a cross between Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon tales and The Twilight Zone. Strange lights appear in the sky, helicopters and secret police are here to protect us, a sentient haze works at the movie theater, and angels named Erika don’t exist. There is an opening for an intern at the local radio station, but it’s not a job with a good future. Customers at the Moonlight All-Nite Diner may pick fruit off the tree who is also a waitress, or eat invisible pie. Single parent Diane works in an office where her boss Catherine denies that a man named Evan ever worked there and seems oblivious to the tarantula on her desk. Diane’s son Josh, a teenager, is a shapeshifter. This is a problem while he’s learning to drive. 19-year-old Jackie runs an unusual pawn shop. She’s been 19 for decades but can’t remember her childhood. Now Jackie can’t get rid of a piece of paper that simply says King City. Diane and Jackie finally work together to learn more about King City and to confront Troy, Josh’s father. Along the way, they brave trips to the library (all the librarians are tentacled monsters) and to City Hall. I enjoyed my visit, and plan to listen to more of the ongoing podcasts.
Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart
This is an outstanding mystery debut, set in southwest China in 1708. Exiled imperial librarian Li Du visits Dayan, near the Tibetan border, and reports to the local magistrate, his cousin Tulishen. Li Du learns that the emperor is coming to Dayan for a festival to celebrate a solar eclipse, and the preparations are considerable, including building a new pagoda. A few foreign visitors are in Dayan, including two Jesuits and a representative of the East India Company. When an astronomer dies suddenly, Li Du is useful as a translator and wants to investigate the death, although the magistrate would rather cover it up. The mystery is clever, but I especially enjoyed the variety of well-drawn characters, and the richly detailed setting. I hope Li Du will have many more adventures, and I think readers of mysteries or historical fiction will thoroughly enjoy reading this book.
Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon
The latest Mitford book is sweet and charming, with a little humor. Fans of the Father Tim books will enjoy reading that his adopted son Dooley is getting married! Dooley and his fiancée are planning a simple country wedding at Meadowgate Farm. To make it simpler, they plan a potluck dinner. Family is ready to help in any way, from planting grass seed to making sure that the chickens and cows are kept away from the wedding location to planting flowers and welcoming the meanest bull in the county, Choo-choo. Of course, complications abound, from threatening weather to lost luggage. But the wedding preparation is simply the frame for another brief visit with Cynthia, Father Tim, Dooley, and the rest of their friends and family. This is sure to be a hit with Jan Karon’s many fans. Enjoy!
The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
The last Discworld book from a beloved author is one to savor. The magical barrier keeping the elves out of the Discworld grows dangerously thin with the passing of powerful witch Granny Weatherwax. Young Tiffany Aching, witch and healer, is left Granny’s cottage and becomes the unofficial head of the witches. Swamped by work, Tiffany prefers her bedroom on her parents’ sheep farm, complete with her mother’s cooking and her father’s advice, but must take care of Granny Weatherwax’s people as well as her own. Finally she takes a most unlikely apprentice, Geoffrey, who wants to be a witch and has a calming influence, along with a very smart goat. The fierce, tiny Nac MacFeegle clan, along with the other witches help Tiffany defend the Discworld from the elves, aided by a group of older men organized by Geoffrey, and the deposed Queen of the elves. Fast-paced, enjoyable, and with plenty of adventure, this is a book about loss, duty, and hope.