Reading list as of July 29th

This month’s reading list might as well be subtitled, “Books I wish I’d written.” I’m green with envy at the way these authors twist words into images, and if I could just write a single sentence that shows the enormous amount of talent in the pages of the stories below, I would happily never write another story.

Let’s start with Carolina De Robertis’ Perla.

This is the book I wish The Secrets in Their Eyes had been.

This is the story that thousands of Argentinian children live with, every day.

Perla opens at the turn of the century. Perla is a university student still trying to understand, and explain away, her father’s role in the Dirty War, where thirty thousand people “disappeared”. An officer in the Navy, she can’t reconcile what he’s done with the man he is, even years later.

The cover flap’s a bit misleading. You don’t expect the element of mysticism that laces through the narrative, flipping between first person (Perla) and third (the stranger who invades her house at the beginning of the story). Dripping wet and smelling of the ocean, his memories return to him slowly with each gulp of water he eats.

It’s a thing of beauty, what De Robertis has done, crafting a story that bleeds and weeps and jumps for joy at the small miracles in life, even surrounded as they are by a wall of lies. She makes us live through the horror of an interrogation, through the false hope of being released, the agony of not knowing what happened to your loved ones. And as Perla grows and changes and begins to realize she has to find a new truth so that she can live, and live with herself, so do we.

I wish I could tell you more about this story, but to do so would give away the plot. Suffice to say, it’s as much about the pain of war, even a war that isn’t fought so much with weapons on a battlefield, as it is about finding a love we didn’t even know we’d lost.

What to say about Tana French’s latest, Broken Harbor. Too much, and not enough. Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy, the stick up his arse detective that Frank Mackey liked to poke at in Faithful Place, takes center stage, catching a case that’s sure to put his name back in the spotlight. A young family is found murdered in a half-finished development outside Dublin, a place where Kennedy spent his summer vacations as a child. This ghost estate holds ghosts of another nature for him, though, and even though he does his best to separate his tangled family’s past from the case that should have been a slam dunk solve, it’s difficult. If by difficult you mean impossible.

French’s novels are literary fiction disguised as genre fiction, and every time I read one I have to stop writing for at least a week afterward, because I find myself trying to emulate her style and it Just. Doesn’t. Work. The prose is beautiful, straight forward in an odd sort of way, and the plot twists and punches you in the gut, or the face, or kicks you in the shins, all when you think you’ve finally got it straight in your head. You don’t. French, I’ve decided, doesn’t do what you’d expect her to do. Take, for instance, Kennedy. A man who was described as boring by his colleagues could have been a horrible main character, unlikable in a way that Gregory House was not. Instead we’ve got a detective dedicated to his job, a rule follower in the extreme, someone perfect for bringing up the rookie Ds, and that’s the surface. Most people around him would only see the surface. They wouldn’t see the tightly locked down, roiling mass inside him. That first punch? It comes early on, and that was my first clue this book wouldn’t be like the one before it, or the one before that. And it’s timely, drawing in the housing bust (the ghost estate of Broken Harbor) and weaving it through the narrative, along with the recession, to bring us a story that’s just as much about class differences as it is about family and the secrets you keep, the secrets that burn a hole in your gut. By the end of the book you have a sense of an era drawing to a close, and I wonder just what the hell French is going to do next.

When I heard Michelle Sagara had written a young adult novel called Silence, I was excited. I’ve enjoyed her Chronicles of Elantra series for its heroine, Kaylin, a strong young woman who’s more than capable of taking care of herself and would rather slit her own throat than ask for help. But so many YA novels directed at teenage girls these days feature a love interest as an integral part of the story, so I was worried. Just a smidge.

I shouldn’t have been.

Emma lost her boyfriend, Nathan, to a tragic accident over the summer. Since then, she’s put on a good front, going to school, keeping up her grades, hanging out with her friends, but inside, she’s biding her time. She doesn’t care about anything anymore. Things pop out of her mouth, sometimes without thinking, something she wouldn’t have done before Nathan died. And every night, she walks to the cemetery with her Rottweiler, Petal, because the quiet she finds there reminds her of the quiet she had with Nathan.

It’s in the cemetery she meets an old lady who changes the course of her life. After that meeting, she can see the dead.

Sure, there’s a mysterious classmate that hangs around quite a bit, someone you’d think, under different circumstances, might be that love interest that’s so popular amongst teenage girls. And it’s possible it might happen, although I’m hoping it won’t (Silence is book one in the Queen of the Dead series). No, the focus is on Emma, and understanding what she can do, and what she wants to do with her new power-see her father again, a man who’s been gone for years. See Nathan again, someone that she’s still grieving for, in a lonesome, quiet way. It’s this grief and coming to grips with the enormity of her new gift that focuses the story, and I couldn’t be happier with it. Sagara has, once again, created a new world and a new way of thinking of necromancers, and I can’t wait to go back.

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