Probably the last batch of mini book reviews for this year? I read most of the following books months ago, but anyway…Included in this batch are:
Death at La Fenice (Commissario Brunetti #1)
By: Donna Leon
Format/Source: Mass market paperback; my purchase
There is little violent crime in Venice, a serenely beautiful floating city of mystery and magic, history and decay. But the evil that does occasionally rear its head is the jurisdiction of Guido Brunetti, the suave, urbane vice-commissario of police and a genius at detection. Now all of his admirable abilities must come into play in the deadly affair of Maestro Helmut Wellauer, a world-renowned conductor who died painfully from cyanide poisoning during an intermission at La Fenice.
But as the investigation unfolds, a chilling picture slowly begins to take shape–a detailed portrait of revenge painted with vivid strokes of hatred and shocking depravity. And the dilemma for Guido Brunetti will not be finding a murder suspect, but rather narrowing the choices down to one. . .
I had been eyeing this series for such a long time, it always crops up whenever I’m looking up crime mystery series to check out. Well I finally picked it up as a book to read whenever I was on break at work and it certainly didn’t disappoint: Guido Brunetti is an interesting character, smart and good at what he does. A different side to Venice comes to life in this novel as Brunetti investigates the death of a well-known conductor, plunging the commissario into the world of music and art and the shadows of the Second World War. It was interesting to follow Brunetti in the case as he navigates through an intricate cast of characters from Wellauer’s life and work, figuring out who had the motive to kill the maestro. I don’t know if I’ll get around to read the rest of the books in this series (as it’s a bit of a long one), but this book was an excellent introduction to Guido Brunetti, his life, his Venice, and his mode of case-solving. Definitely worth checking out if you’re into this the crime mystery genre and you like your mysteries set in Italy.
Family Furnishings: Selected Stories, 1995 – 2014
By: Alice Munro
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
Here is a selection of Munro’s most accomplished and powerfully affecting short fiction from the last two decades, a companion volume to A Wilderness Station: Selected Stories, 1968–1994. These stories encompass the fullness of human experience, from the wild exhilaration of first love (in “Passion”) to the punishing consequences of leaving home (“Runaway”) or ending a marriage (“The Children Stay”). And in stories that Munro has described as “closer to the truth than usual”—”Dear Life,” “Working for a Living,” and “Home”—we glimpse the author’s own life.
Subtly honed with her hallmark precision, grace, and compassion, these stories illuminate the quotidian yet astonishing particularities in the lives of men and women, parents and children, friends and lovers as they discover sex, fall in love, part, quarrel, suffer defeat, set off into the unknown, or find a way to be in the world.
I’ve been excited about this book ever since its publication was announced last year. Like the book blurb mentions, it’s the perfect companion to her first selected stories compilation (review) and while I have read a few of her short story collections in the last few years, I know there are plenty other books and stories of hers that I have yet t read.
The Love of a Good Woman
By: Alice Munro
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase
All of these eight wonderful stories are about what people will do for love, and the unexpected routes their passion will force them to take.
An old landlady in Vancouver who alarms the just-married narrator with her prim advice about married life – and “the peculiar threat” of a china cabinet that must be washed once a month – is shown to have conspired when young in a crime of passion. A young mother, at the mercy of the “radiant explosion” that comes when she thinks of her secret life, abandons her baby and four-year old to be with her lover in the story “The Children Stay.” A gruff old country doctor in the 1960s is discovered by his daughter to be helping desperate women, his “special patients.” An impetuous young woman meets a visiting Indian student and conceives on a train from Vancouver to Toronto because of “the fact that you couldn’t get condoms around the Calgary station, not for love or money.” An Ontario farm wife’s affair drives her husband to commit a murder; its discovery, years later, will act as a negotiating point for a new, presumably satisfactory, marriage.
The book is clear-eyed about the imperfections of marriage, the clutter of our emotional lives, and the impermanence of love: “Not that that was the end. For we did make up. But we didn’t forgive each other.” Even the shared memories of earlier times prove to be a minefield, and many of the stories track the changes that time brings over generations to families, lovers, and even to friends who share old, intimate secrets about “the prostration of love.”
As always these stories by Alice Munro are shot through with humour, and are as rich as novels. As always the characters in the stories are easily, sometimes uncomfortably, recognizable as people like us. One quote summarizes the delightful surprises that await the reader: “Did you ever think that people’s lives could be like that and end up like this? Well, they can.”
My last Alice Munro book wasn’t a terribly enjoyable read (review) but that hasn’t stopped me from checking out her other story collections as her insights are really quite astounding; quiet but powerful. This collection apparently was a Giller Prize winner and I picked it up late last year as the premises for some of the stories it contained were quite interesting.
The Mistletoe Bride and Other Haunting Tales
By: Kate Mosse
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
A wonderfully atmospheric collection of stories from one of our most captivating writers, inspired by ghost stories, traditional folk tales and country legends from England and France. These tales are richly populated by spirits and ghosts seeking revenge; by grief-stricken women and haunted men coming to terms with their destiny – all rooted deep in the elemental landscapes of Sussex, Brittany and the Languedoc.
So I’ve been on something of a roll with catching up and reading everything by Kate Mosse. I read her Languedoc trilogy first, which I greatly enjoyed. More recently I got around to finally reading The Winter Ghosts (review). And now here we are, with her collection of short stories 🙂
The Story of Kullervo
By: J.R.R. Tolkien, Verilyn Flieger (editor)
Format/Source: Hardback; my purchase
The world first publication of a previously unknown work of fantasy by J.R.R. Tolkien, which tells the powerful story of a doomed young man who is sold into slavery and who swears revenge on the magician who killed his father.
Kullervo son of Kalervo is perhaps the darkest and most tragic of all J.R.R. Tolkien’s characters. ‘Hapless Kullervo’, as Tolkien called him, is a luckless orphan boy with supernatural powers and a tragic destiny.
Brought up in the homestead of the dark magician Untamo, who killed his father, kidnapped his mother, and who tries three times to kill him when still a boy, Kullervo is alone save for the love of his twin sister, Wanona, and guarded by the magical powers of the black dog, Musti. When Kullervo is sold into slavery he swears revenge on the magician, but he will learn that even at the point of vengeance there is no escape from the cruellest of fates.
Tolkien himself said that The Story of Kullervo was ‘the germ of my attempt to write legends of my own’, and was ‘a major matter in the legends of the First Age’. Tolkien’s Kullervo is the clear ancestor of Túrin Turambar, tragic incestuous hero of The Silmarillion. In addition to it being a powerful story in its own right, The Story of Kullervo – published here for the first time with the author’s drafts, notes and lecture-essays on its source-work, The Kalevala – is a foundation stone in the structure of Tolkien’s invented world.
The publication of this manuscript of Tolkien’s in 2015 actually snuck up on me; I wasn’t aware of it until some three months before its release. Naturally I was excited; it’s always interesting to find out more of Tolkien’s works, finished or unfinished, things he was thinking about. I was especially excited about this piece because it’s his attempt to fashion his own story from one of the stories and characters from The Kalevala (review), the Finnish epic. I read the epic myself a few years ago after learning how much of his own work was influenced by the piece and here I was very interested to see how he handles such a tale.