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Category Archive for 'S'

When her husband Sam dies alone of a heart attack in the minutes that she has been waiting to join him at a favorite restaurant in Vermont, devoted wife Antonia makes it her primary focus to create an afterlife for him. She needs something that will enable her to relive memories and past events with him while she lives her everyday life. When Mario, a young, undocumented worker from Mexico who works on the nearest farm, comes to clean her gutters, he eventually asks for a favor – Will she please help him call his girlfriend who is now in the US but far away from him in Vermont? Developing her themes of love and loss in life and death as they affect Antonia, Julia Alvarez creates several subplots involving other characters, all reflecting powerful emotions without descending into sentimentality or maudlin self-analysis. Mario, his girlfriend Estela, and José, his fellow worker on the farm, are one plot, dealing with the problems of illegal immigrants desperate to create new lives in the US. The second plot line revolves around a get-together of Antonia and her three sisters in Massachusetts to celebrate her birthday. The failure of sister Izzy to appear for the celebration, as promised, becomes the all-consuming issue for the other sisters for many days, and the need for Antonia to be present as they and the police all search for Izzy force her to be out of state when some of the issues involving Mario and his undocumented girlfriend are becoming critical. Abandonment, betrayal, the sadness of loss, and anger lead to personal growth, further develop the original themes, and flesh out this dramatic and sensitive novel.

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In this “Tartan Noir” mystery set in 1973, thirty-year-old Harry McCoy, a member of the Glasgow polis, is about to have a week to end all weeks. From July 13, 1973 to July 21, 1973, he will be busy twenty-four hours a day with a series of heinous crimes that will take him from investigations in his native Glasgow to Belfast and back. Several missing persons and some grisly murders, which seem to be the most efficient way to solve difficult problems among the various crime lords of Glasgow, will keep him and his fellow officers so busy they rarely have time to drink, socialize, or experiment with substances. Only a few hours (and ten pages) after the novel begins with the disappearance of thirteen-year-old Alice Kelly, McCoy discovers the body of musician Bobby March, “the best guitarist of his generation,” a man who was not only asked to join the Rolling Stones, but said “no, thank you” to the offer. The noir gets even darker as the novel develops, with more grisly murders and a trip to Belfast by McCoy in search of more information regarding funding for the crimes in Glasgow. The references to Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones give context to Bobby March’s talent, and provide a bit of a break in this very dark narrative.

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Fourteen-year-old Erik Wassman has been working on a graphic novel and keeping himself otherwise occupied in the summer of 1962, hoping to get past some of the problems he faces. He is a very young fourteen, just beginning to look at the world from a wider perspective, and his father has just told him it will be a “rough summer,” as his mother is dying of cancer in hospital. Hoping to make life easier for Erik, his father has arranged for him to go to the family’s lakeside summer retreat on Lake Möckeln with his older brother Henry, now twenty-two. He has also suggested that Erik invite a classmate, Edmund, whom Erik does not know well, to come to the lake with him. The summer place is only fifteen miles from home, and it will be possible for Erik to visit his mother if he needs to. Author Håkan Nesser, the winner of many prizes for his crime novels, maintains a quiet calm here as he introduces his main characters and setting, especially with Erik, and as new characters are introduced, it becomes clear that much of this novel will be concerned with Erik’s psychological growth, rather than with hard crime. Then a Kim Novak look-alike arrives , and some dark machinations lead to murder.

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In this finely written and often subtle literary thriller, debut author Sara Mesa focuses on an elite boarding school in rural northeast Spain. The school, Wybrany College, has been built in a man-made meadow on the road from Cardenas to the now defunct city of Vado. No signs along the road indicate any access to the property, and the school’s website does not provide an exact location for it. There are no photographs of the school or its grounds. Said to have been founded in 1943 by Andrzej Wybrany, a wealthy, exiled Polish businessman, who had been “moved by the fate of exiled orphans who had lost their parents,” the school was intended to educate and care for these orphans “with all the resources they would have enjoyed had the destinies of their families remained unaltered.” The reader soon discovers that nothing at the school is what the new teacher Isidro Bedragare expects, and the reader soon learns that even Isidro is not what the reader expects. Isidro has to admit that “my free time in the afternoon doesn’t compensate for the stress of every morning, the continual shifting between pretense and mockery, appearance and uncertainty,” with everyone speaking in code – both students and faculty. Gradually, the grim, hidden stories behind the school evolve, and as author Sara Mesa begins to show them in increasingly symbolic light, Isidro gets ready to take action.

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Poet-author Serge Pey grew up among the Republican partisans and anarchists who participated in the Spanish Civil War and were brutally defeated by Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s army in 1939. His family, like those of many other defeated fighters, escaped to France in the aftermath of the war, but were confined to internment camps within France as soon as they were captured. Author Pey, born in 1950, has obviously grown up knowing his family’s stories during the Spanish Civil War and in the internment camps in France, and his own values and beliefs in freedom have been molded by the culture within them. Here in this collection of often interconnected stories, he provides glimpses of a unique and powerful culture, the product of the lives lived by his family and their friends during and immediately after the Spanish Civil War. Filled with dramatic events, symbols, and hidden messages, this book is more than literary fiction. It is true literature, a collection of writings which inspire thoughtful reflection on life itself and share the ideas of its characters and author, a work which many readers will enjoy reading again and again and again.

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