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The Convent

The setting for this new novel by Panos Karnezis is a 16th century nunnery in the Spanish Sierra. There are only 6 nuns living at Our Lady of Mercy in the early 1920’s when a newborn baby is left on the steps of the convent. Of the six, only two are eager to keep the baby. The Mother Superior, Sister Maria Ines, believes the baby is God’s way of letting her know that her past sins have been forgiven and that his arrival on their doorstep is a miracle. Sister Beatriz is happy to help Sister Maria Ines with the baby in any way she can. The Mother Superior’s maternal instincts kick into high gear but are accompanied by an increasing paranoia. She begins to see almost everyone and everything as a threat to the precious child she has named Renato. It doesn’t help that one of the nuns, Sister Ana, believes the baby was sent by Satan himself. Sister Ana’s suspicions are reinforced as she witnesses the changes in the Mother Superior’s behavior. The mystery of the baby’s parentage and his fate are revealed slowly and deliberately in this sparse novel.

The main character in this novel is certainly Sister Maria Ines. There is very little said about most of the other characters in this story, including the baby. Her obsessive love for the baby, caused by her desperate need to be forgiven, becomes a character of its own. Though the ending doesn’t come as much of a surprise, it is heartbreaking none the less. This is a story of promises made and promises broken, and the price paid for both.

September 28, 2010 Posted by | Fiction | , , , | Leave a comment

West of Here

In his newest novel, West of Here, Jonathan Evison blends past and present to create a mythical story filled with love, adventure and family dysfunction. Set in the fictional town of Port Bonita, Washington, the novel alternates between the late 1880’s when the town is striving to become a destination in the west to rival Seattle, and 2006, as Port Bonita readies itself to shed its past and move on to an uncertain future.

Evison has populated both eras with wonderfully developed characters. In the 1880’s, James Mather is an adventurer seeking to conquer the rest of the Washington Territory on the eve of its statehood. Ethan Thornburgh is a businessman determined to harness the power of the Elwha River by building a dam to bring electricity, people, and prestige to Port Bonita. The Klallam Indians have seen their traditions vanish and are struggling to co-exist with the settlers. In 2006 the descendants of these settlers are still contending with the consequences of decisions made by their forefathers. As Port Bonita makes plans to tear down the dam, the town must begin to reinvent itself. It is the perfect time for some of its residents to do the same.

I have to admit that it took a few chapters to draw me into this story. Looking back, I have no idea why because once I was in, I loved it. There is a great sense of place in this novel; I was transported back more than 100 years by Evison’s rich detail of the culture and geography of the Northern Pacific. The characters are larger than life while remaining true to life. My personal favorite is Dave Krigstadt who, in 2006, is employed by the High Tide salmon processing plant. Struggling with garnering respect or even consideration from those around him, Krig may be the one to finally break free of his family’s legacy of indifference from others.

September 19, 2010 Posted by | Fiction, Historical Fiction | , | Leave a comment

Plea of Insanity

In a quiet section of Coral Gables, Florida, in a neighborhood of stately homes, a terrible crime has been committed.  Someone has brutally murdered a young mother and her three small children. The prime suspect is also at the scene, with the murder weapon still imbedded in his stomach. He is still alive, though barely. He is Dr. David Marquette, the husband and father of the slaughtered family.

Julia Vacanti is a young Assistant State Attorney in Miami. She is a “B” prosecutor, usually assigned to second degree felonies. It is no wonder that everyone, including Julia, is surprised when she is asked to second seat the murder prosecution of Dr. Marquette. The Assistant Division Chief of Major Crimes, Rick Bellido, has asked for her personally. Julia can only hope that the request came because of her prosecution record, not because she and Rick are sleeping together. This is the type of case that can make or break a career, and Julia’s has really just started. Her aunt Nora begs her not to take the case. She feels the crime is too similar to the events that destroyed Julia’s own family when she was a child. When Dr. Marquette’s lawyer enters a plea of insanity on his client’s behalf, Julia is forced to re-examine the events that led to her own family tragedy.

This is a great legal thriller that will keep you hooked from beginning to end. Jilliane Hoffman is a major talent and I am looking forward to her next book, “Pretty Little Things”, due out in September 2010.

September 7, 2010 Posted by | Fiction | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Language of Trees

Ilie Ruby’s debut novel opens with a canoeing accident in the waters of the Canandaigua Lake. The three small Ellis children have stolen a canoe and are making their way out to Squaw Island, a few miles away. When a storm springs up, the wind and waves prove to be too much for the children; only two will survive the storm. Twelve years later, the tragedy continues to haunt the residents of Canandaigua figuratively and literally.

Grant Shongo has returned to his family’s cabin on the lake. His wife Susanna left him a year ago and Grant has come back to heal. Back to the place his Seneca ancestors called The Chosen Spot, where the earth split open and his people emerged. Grant isn’t the only one who has been drawn back to Canandaigua. Echo, his first love, has returned from Boston, fearing that Joseph, the man who raised her, is in far worse health than he has let on.

The reunion of Grant and Echo is overshadowed by the disappearance of Melanie Ellis. Melanie has led a troubled life since that night twelve years ago, when she and her brother and sister were caught in the storm so far from shore. Now she is gone without a trace, leaving behind her boyfriend and young child. Some believe she is on yet another binge, but others are not convinced. Either way, her family is determined to find her. It is a perfect storm of sorts, these events that are unfolding. Events that will reveal secrets long kept hidden, a lifetime of secrets and mistakes “that catch up with a person in a span of a few hours”.

This is a great novel with endearing characters that will touch your heart. This is not a novel about regret; instead it is a story of accepting choices made and moving on without regret. It is a story that demonstrates that “not everything is meant to happen. Some things should stay as they are, just like that, full of possibility. It’s wanting them that gives you something to hope for, a reason to get up in the morning and put on a fancy dress”. I loved this novel and its message.

September 6, 2010 Posted by | Fiction | , , | 2 Comments