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Author Archive for Susan

Deep Creek by Dana Hand

by Susan on October 12th, 2010
Deep Creek by Dana Hand Cover Image

Deep Creek is a historical novel that recounts the story of an 1887 massacre of more than 30 Chinese gold miners in a remote area of Idaho along the Snake River. The story begins when a small town judge and former sheriff, Joe Vincent, takes his ten year old daughter, Nell, fishing and Nell ends up snagging a body…and then another one, and another one. The Chinese miners working for the Sam Yup Company have been brutally murdered and their bodies mutilated. Vincent ends up working with a representative of the mining company, Lee Loi, and metis mountain guide Grace Sundown to track the killers and bring them to justice.  The characters are compelling, the story is intriguing, but the history is what really caught me up in this book. Dana Hand is a pen name for Will Howarth and Anne Matthews who have collaborated on eighteen books of nonfiction, many of them on American history. They know their stuff. The Wild West is portrayed in all it’s glory and excitement, but the dark side of land deals, exploitation, and casual, often violent, discrimination against Chinese immigrants and American Indians is the back story.  This is a Mystery, a Western and a character study — not an easy read, but a rewarding one.

The Ice Princess

by Susan on August 20th, 2010
The Ice Princess Cover Image

A best selling author in Sweden, this is the first of author Camilla Lackberg’s books to be translated into English. It tells the story of Erica Faick, a writer who has come back to the tiny resort town of Fjallbacks to put her parents’  house in order after their death. While there, a childhood friend who she has not been close to in years dies of an apparent suicide. Erica’s search for the truth and an understanding of what had happened to her once good friend in the years that have passed slowly reveals clues and a complicated set of possibilities. The tale is a little Agatha Christie-ish with many motives and characters and a strong sense of time and place.  Erica teams up with another childhood friend and local police officer, Patrik, who has an almost pathetically incompetent boss.  If you like Scandinavian mysteries you’ll like this book.

A Trace of Smoke

by Susan on June 28th, 2010
A Trace of Smoke Cover Image

This mystery is set in the Weimer Republic, 1931 Berlin. Hannah Vogel is a crime reporter (using a male pseudonym) for a local newspaper. In the “Hall of the Unnamed Dead,” she discovers a picture of her brother, found naked and dead of a stab wound. Ernst was a gay transvestite cabaret star with a long list of lovers, including several Nazis. Hannah cannot go to the police because she has loaned her identification papers to a Jewish friend trying to get out of the country, so she begins to investigate by herself. Soon after Ernst’s death a young boy shows up on her doorstep with a birth certificate that claims Ernst is his father and Hannah is his mother.  The tension builds as Hannah does not know who she can trust or where to turn for help.  This is a gritty story with incredible eye to period detail.

Sing Them Home

by Susan on May 3rd, 2010
Sing Them Home Cover Image

In 1978 terminally ill Hope Jones of Emlyn Spring, Nebraska disappears in a tornado and is never found.  Twenty five years later her three children are brought together after their father is struck by lightening.  Oldest daughter Larken is an overweight art history professor with a fear of flying; Gaelan, the only son, is a promiscuous, body builder television weatherman; and Bonnie, the youngest who disappeared in the tornado with her mother, but was found alive,  has stayed in Emlyn Spring working a variety of jobs and searching for debris that will connect her with her mother.  The town has a Welsh heritage that is an important part of the story–the singing referred to in the title is a Welsh tradition of singing for the dead.  The book is beautifully written and a wonderful story about one family and one midwestern town.

Gardening Inspiration

by Susan on March 22nd, 2010
Gardening Inspiration Cover Image

It’s that time of year.  The sun is (mostly) shining and things are turning green.  Time to think about your garden that has been buried under all that snow since December.  And, no better place to get inspired about all the things you want to to do in your garden this year than at the Library.  I pulled a couple of  books off the NEW book shelf on the second floor this week to start my thinking process.  One is Gardening with Shape, Line and Texture:  a plant design sourcebook by Linden Hawthorne (do you suppose her parents were gardeners?).  The book is full of beautiful pictures (most of them taken in Britain where the author is from) and the chapters have self explanatory titles:  Painting with Plants, Horizontals and Tiers, Verticals and Diagonals, Arcs and Fountains, Clumps and Mounds, Clouds and Transparents.  Designing and Planting Small Gardens by Peter McHoy focuses on smaller spaces with many examples of styles, over 700 photographs and features on patios, ponds, rock gardens, roof terraces and containers.  There are excellent step by step pages –  like the cook books that show pictures along the way, not just of the finished projects.   My focus is perennials and flowers, but there are books for all types of gardeners at the Library.

Border Songs by Jim Lynch

by Susan on March 16th, 2010
Border Songs by Jim Lynch Cover Image

Quirky is perhaps too mild an adjective for Brandon Venderkool.  He is severely dyslexic, six foot eight, and an obsessive bird watcher.  He also works on the Border Patrol along the “ditch” between Washington State and British Columbia where his bird watching (oops, I mean patroling) is interrupted by pot smugglers, human smugglers and terrorists who are trying to enter the United States illegally.  Brandon is not the only interesting character is this well written novel.  His father is struggling to keep a small dairy farm in business while his mother struggles with early stages of Alzheimers.  There’s a liberal Canadian retired professor who delights in posting anti-U.S. signs within view of the border, a natural healer who takes extraordinary interest in getting lots of stories from everyone she lays hands on, and a woman Brandon would like to see alot more of who gives up her job at a local nursery to grow marijuana in the basements of houses for a drug dealer.   Border Songs is a story that weaves themes of national importance in with the ordinary lives of unusual people, all set in an interesting area of the country along our country’s longest border.

New Orleans Thriller

by Susan on February 11th, 2010
New Orleans Thriller Cover Image

Down in the Flood by Kenneth Abel is a real page turner. Danny Chaisson is a New Orleans attorney helping his receptionist’s relative, an engineer working for a concrete company, who the feds are pressuring to give evidence of cut corners and sub-par work against his boss.  The boss in turn is getting pressure from a mobster to whom he owes a large gambling debt. These are the players when a little storm named Katrina comes to town.  The engineer has disappeared on the eve of grand jury testimony and Danny refuses to evacuate as he races the storm to save his client.  

Danny is an appealing character.  He is a former informant still remembered by many as a traitor.  His moral code does not allow him to abandon a client even though his wife. an ATF agent, is assigned to remain in the City, begs him to take their daughter and leave town.  He grew up in the Ninth Ward and as the waters rise he sees the best and worst his City has to offer.  I’m going back to the beginning and intend the read the earlier two titles in this series.

Coop: a year of poultry, pigs and parenting

by Susan on January 22nd, 2010
Coop: a year of poultry, pigs and parenting Cover Image

One of my New Year’s resolutions (right after my ECO Iowa City ones) is to read more nonfiction.  And, not just my ususal books for work, or cookbooks, or gardening books either.  I’ve started with an enjoyable memoir, Coop, by Michael Perry.  His earlier titles, Population 485, and Truck were very popular, but I haven’t read either.  This installment tells the story of a year in the life of Perry and his family on a 37 acre farm in Wisconsin.  Interspersed among his tales of current family including the birth of a child, and his efforts to introduce pigs and poultry into his small operation, are reminiscenes of his childhood growing up in a large family full of children both biological and foster on a small dairy farm.  His parents were members of a strict fundamentalist church and, although he did not follow their faith, he is able to share that experience in a positive way.  He is a pragmatic farmer who buys chickens and feeder pigs for the eventual purpose of slaughter and eating, but he describes his adventures with animals and their characteristics in a humorous and engaging way.  This book is a great title to read after reading this year’s All Iowa Reads Selection, Driftless, because it shares many of the same themes about the lasting strength people find in friends and family and an appreciation for hard work and “midwestern values.” I highly recommend it.

Dead Santa in Reykjavik

by Susan on January 15th, 2010
Dead Santa in Reykjavik Cover Image

 Voices by Arnaldur Indridason is the third mystery in a series starring Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson and it is set in Reykjavik.  In the midst of holiday festivities the doorman at an upscale hotel who plays Santa Claus is found stabbed — in his costume with his pants around his knees.  This is not a “cozy” mystery.  Erlendur is a dour loner, concerned over his drug-addicted daughter, bothered by memories of his brother’s death, and ignoring well-meaning co-workers who are trying to make holiday plans for him.  He discovers the victim was once a child singing star, but his life changed when his voice did and he has long been estranged from his family.

The cover of Voices calls this book a thriller, I would call it a dark pyschological study with a significant depression level evident in most of those involved–more Iowa Winter reading than sunny beach reading.  If you like Ian Rankin or Henning Mankell I think you’ll like this book.

A Gate at the Stairs

by Susan on December 30th, 2009
A Gate at the Stairs Cover Image

Set in the midwest, mostly in a university town (author Lorrie Moore teaches at the University of Wiscosin) A Gate at the Stairs is a coming of age novel.  Tassie Kelgin is a university student trying to make ends meet and seeking companionship since her roommate has a new boyfriend.  She is hired as a nanny by a strange (as in, not midwestern) sophisticated older couple who are trying to adopt a child.  At the same time she begins a relationship with a “Brazilian” boy.  Set shortly after 9/11 this novel explores issues of racism, family, and love.  Although there is a building sense of impending doom,  I was unprepared for the tragedy when it came.  Still, there is a great deal of humor as Tassie describes her reactions to what is going on around her, and the writing draws you in to a compelling story.

Susan at the Library

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