Novelist Maeve Binchy has died at the age of 72. Beloved by her many fans since her first novel, Light a Penny Candle, was published in 1983, her heartwarming novels and short stories are set in Ireland, London, and Greece, and are known for their well-drawn characters and good storytelling. Tara Road was the first novel to have a million copy first printing, and was later made into a movie, as was Circle of Friends. She delighted her readers by coming out of retirement in 2002 and wrote five more books. Her book for aspiring writers, Maeve Binchy Writer’s Club, contains some short stories readers may have missed. Minding Frankie was her most recent book; see my review here. Brenda
No Mark Upon Her, by Deborah Crombie
The 14th book in the marvelous British police procedural mystery series that starts with A Share in Death. Family life has always been complicated for Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his wife Detective Inspector Gemma James and now they are foster parents to young Charlotte. Gemma is finishing her family leave by planning an Alice in Wonderland themed party for Charlotte when Duncan gets called in to consult on a case right before he’s due for his turn at family leave.
The setting is charming: Henley, a village on the Thames River thirty-five miles from London where Detective Inspector Becca Meredith is secretly in training for a possible spot on the women’s Olympic rowing team. Respected but not well-liked, Becca rows alone, and disappears after an evening row. Reported missing by her ex-husband Freddie, search and rescue teams are called in, and we meet Tavie and her dog Tosh and Kiernan and his dog Finn. Kiernan is also a rower, and is making a beautiful wooden scull for Becca, his lover. To complicate matters, a retired police commissioner lives nearby, whom Becca accused of assault a year earlier. No Mark Upon Her is an intriguing mix of the domestic life of Duncan, Gemma and their friends, the setting of the quaint village with competitive rowing and rescue dogs, and violence and suspense added in.
Many authors have wondered what the world would be like if something big happened and the world changed. Many of the future earths imagined are rather bleak and more about survival then creating new futures. S. M. Stirling has a different viewpoint. When the Change happens to our characters in the Pacific Northwest, they see a dazzling flash of light, and find that higher technologies stop working, such as electricity and combustion engines. Chaos, disease, accidents, and hunger mean that a year later many people have died. The people still living have mostly gathered in small communities where archaic ways of life have become popular. Medieval history professor Norman Arminger takes charge of Portland, creating knights and serfs. Musician Juniper MacKenzie moves to her uncle’s farm and ends up chief of a Celtic clan which practices Wicca and trains youth in archery. College faculty form a democracy, and a monastery becomes a Catholic stronghold. A pilot with a teen passenger who’s a Tolkien fan become leaders of the Bearkillers and Rangers. Three books, starting with Dies the Fire, describe the development of the new societies. Another series, starting with The Sunrise Lands, tell the story of those leaders’ grown children and their quest to travel across North America fighting villains and bringing communities together. The characters are realistic, the author’s imagination fascinating, and the unfolding story lines and curiosity about the future engaging, as is the question of why and how the Change occurred and if a mystical sword will change things back.
The Vices, by Lawrence Douglas
This book is the story of Oliver Vice, a philosophy prodigy and professor at a prestigious eastern college. As the book starts we encounter Oliver on the stormy deck of the QE2 during an Atlantic crossing. Oliver then disappears, apparently gone overboard. The unnamed narrator spends the rest of the book trying to fill in Oliver’s back story and make sense of this seemingly senseless act. Oliver’s problem is that, like Truman Capote, he writes a masterpiece early in his career and spends the rest of it trying to duplicate his early success. Over the course of the book we learn of Oliver’s checkered past, his many girlfriends and paramours, his trouble with true intimacy, even with himself. Oliver’s family, including his twin brother Bartholemew, and Hungarian mother Francizka, are a constant source of weird entertainment. The narrator finds himself drawn into a battle over the family’s money and art. Because of his obsession the narrator’s own family life slowly disintegrates. I did not find this to be a particularly funny book although there is a hilarious scene at an S&M Club in London. There are some serious philosophical themes that deal with the nature of friendship and self knowledge as well as are some subplots dealing with Nazi death camps and forged artwork. It is very well written.
The Long Earth, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
Discover of the long earth begins when kids in Madison, Wisconsin start building a simple electrical device powered by a potato. When they flip a switch, most of them disappear, reappearing in a forest, confused and nauseated. Orphaned teen Joshua helps bring the children home. They had stepped into one of thousands of parallel Earths. Soon, pioneer colonists and entrepreneurs settle in nearby Earths, hampered by the fact that iron can’t cross the border. Some people can’t step, either, and this creates resentment. Governments and police struggle to keep up with all of the changes.
Fifteen years later, Joshua is approached by the transEarth Institute. A Tibetan mechanic reincarnated as an artificial intelligence wants Joshua to travel with him in an airship to distant Earths. They travel quickly, as Joshua is a natural stepper who experiences no nausea and doesn’t even need a device. They encounter varied settlements, exotic and sometimes dangerous fauna, and varying geology and climates. They meet Sally, the daughter of the device’s inventor. Other, more primitive, hominids are found, and some of them are fleeing from danger towards main Earth, where the anti-stepping crowd is becoming more vocal. A strange and marvelous journey, with some of Pratchett’s usual humor.
Robyn Carr’s Virgin River is a fictional village set in northern California, but it feels real. The bestselling, award-winning, romance series is up to 19 titles, with another coming out in November. I have read three books scattered throughout the series and expect I’ll read more: Shelter Mountain, Paradise Valley, and Harvest Moon. I’ve had to replace most of the books for the library’s collection as they have worn out. What makes these books so appealing? The cozy small town setting, romances that continue on throughout the series, plots that don’t wrap up neatly in a single book, characters that continue to change and grow, and heal. I would describe them as romances that readers of cozy mystery series might enjoy. The people who come to Virgin River tend to have medical or military backgrounds, and many are wounded in body or soul, and have come to Virgin River to start over. Here, they find friends, new jobs, hang out at the bar, and often get married and have babies, then welcome other members of their family to town. For lots more about the series and characters, visit the author’s website. The Virgin River books are:
2. Shelter Mountain
3. Whispering Rock
4. A Virgin River Christmas
5. Second Chance Pass
6. Temptation Ridge
7. Paradise Valley
8. Forbidden Falls
9. Angel’s Peak
10. Moonlight Road
12. Wild Man Creek
13. Harvest Moon
14. Bring Me Home for Christmas
15. Hidden Summit
16. Redwood Bend
17. Sunrise Point
There are also two novellas in That Holiday Feeling and Midnight Kiss.
Hello, Harry Potter fans! As you may or may not know, there is news a’rumbling about a brand new adult novel by our favorite author, J. K. Rowling. This book, entitled The Casual Vacancy, will be published on Thursday, September 27th, and there are many people who have already pre-ordered their copy from their local library.
J.K. Rowling’s publisher, Little Brown Book Group, is (not surprisingly) hush-hush on the specific details of her first adult novel. As far as we know, many of her original fans are now in their twenties, and I’m sure a big reason for the new book was to keep her main fan base going.
According to USA TODAY, “the book will be set in an English town called Pagford where things are not as idyllic as they seem on the surface.” The Little Brown Book Group says the book will be “darkly comic, thought provoking, and constantly surprising”. Goodreads.com has also given a short summary of the book here. Order your copy at the Woodridge Public Library today!