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Very much in the tradition of her previous Neapolitan Quartet, author Elena Ferrante delves deeply into the psychology, culture, and social and romantic goals of characters whom the reader comes to know from within. In the course of the novel, she first presents Giovanna, age twelve, her family, and their friends – those living elegantly at the top of the hill in Naples – and sets up contrasts between their lives with those who live at the bottom of the hill, a much poorer area in which life is far more difficult. When Giovanna decides she wants to meet her mysterious aunt Vittoria, the family pariah, considered a “demon” living at the bottom of the hill, the family’s interrelationships become more complex. Over the next five years, they meet several times, and when the marriage of Giovanna’s parents begins to crack, Vittoria tells Giovanna to pay close attention to their arguments and actions to learn what is happening behind the scenes. Complex details involving all of these characters give new meaning to the “lying lives” of the adults. While these revelations are occurring, Giovanna herself is growing up and feeling her own sexual interests come alive, adding intensity to the atmosphere and more tension in Giovanna’s life. Those who have loved the Neapolitan Quartet will find this novel a good counterpart with its emphasis on psychological development, the inner thoughts and quandaries of its main character(s), and the constant reliving of the past and its mistakes. Book clubs will have a fine time analyzing the “adult” Giovanna as she makes a life-changing decision on the last pages.

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The Glass Kingdom, a large high-rise community in Bangkok, has seen better days. A once-fashionable community built in the 90s, consisting of four towers connected by glass walkways, gardens, and a swimming pool, today it is “a corner of upperclass affluence hidden within a forgotten ruin.” Into this scene comes Sarah Mullins, a thirty-something American who left New York just a week ago on business involving the theft of $200,000, and she intends to make herself invisible in Bangkok. Once established there, Sarah tries to remain aloof and avoid questions, but she quickly becomes friendly with Mali, a woman whom she meets at the pool, and two other women, each of whom also has some secrets. Author Lawrence Osborne uses these women’s lives at the Kingdom as a microcosm of life in Bangkok, freely shifting points of view back and forth among the women and establishing in more detail the atmosphere of the Kingdom and of Bangkok, in general. Then a murder takes place, and Sarah is at the heart of it.

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Everything I have learned about Mumbai, over the years, I have learned from books, but this is the first time that I have ever felt that I have been given real insights into the nature of this dense and vibrant city and its multitudes of people of all cultures. Author Jayant Kaikini, who obviously loves Mumbai, presents dozens of characters who live their lives on these pages, sharing their inner thoughts with the reader, living through often stressful moments, and supporting their friends in times of difficulty. His characters are so fully drawn and so “human” that many readers will simply sit back, settle into their reading, and let the stories tell themselves – as if socializing with a group of friends – however different the characters’ lives and conditions may be from our own. Presenting a broad picture of daily life in Mumbai for those who must make their own way – often from childhood – author Kaikini shows the inherent thoughtfulness, kindness, and care which these neediest of young people have for each other. No trace of self-pity arises here as the characters must often change their plans, find new directions for their efforts, and experience satisfaction within the narrow limits of their environments and lives. Written between 1986 and 2006, these stories reflect inspiration and hope for the future, and readers of this unforgettable collection cannot help but be inspired and hopeful along with them.

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Readers looking for something thoughtful but not turgid will find much to love here. Father Dan, a “retired” priest, seems very naive – and even a little silly, at the beginning of this book. He is a constantly evolving character making a pilgrimage from Indiana to Washington State, with several important stops along the way to meet with people he knows. He can never make what most of us would call a “decision.” A reaction to two issues, in particular, one involving a friend and one involving an “unfriend,” would create no confusion for most people, but somehow they have been impossible for Fr. Dan to resolve. Throughout, the reader somehow remains on Fr. Dan’s side, even when s/he wants to throttle him, and when he finally arrives to meet his long-time friends in Washington, they provide some new thoughts and insights. Even at this point, however, Father Dan takes no immediate action, but that is good, this time – at least he does not disappear into a “hole to hell,” like the one he saw in western Kansas. Ultimately, the reader is left with the idea that Father Dan might, at last, make a real decision – all by himself, independent of historical learning, his own past, and his own fears, and maybe he will find a kind of peace he has never known. On the Favorites list for the year.

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To celebrate the Ray Bradbury Centennial (1920 – 2020), Hard Case Crime has published a deluxe new edition of twenty Bradbury crime stories from early in his career, most of them published in pulp magazines before he began his sci-fi and fantasy work. Some of these stories later inspired novels such as Dandelion Wine and Death is a Lonely Business. Republishing his work and themes from when he was in his early twenties and thirties provides an up close look at his development as a writer, one who gradually increased the complexity of his themes while reducing some of the gore. Bradbury fans will thrill at seeing some new stories and a dozen artworks associated with them.

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