Even More Bookses

Alright, jumping right back into it, here are four more books that I’ve read over the past six months!

The Returned, by Jason Mott. Published by Harlequin MIRA.

The Returned, by Jason Mott. Published by Harlequin MIRA.

The Returned, by Jason Mott is the source material of the new show on ABC titled, Resurrection. As the TV show’s name makes obvious, this book tackles the notion of the dead coming back to life, but not as zombies (which is only mildly disappointing in this case). Instead, The Returned follows a more Biblical approach to the dead rising from the grave, and does so intelligently and thoughtfully.

Jacob Hargrave died after his eighth birthday party in 1966. His parents, Harold and Lucille did not have any other children and have tarried in this mortal coil for decades since their son’s passing. You can only imagine the shock of one day answering the door and finding that their only son has returned from the world beyond having not aged a day since he died. Lucille, a faithful Bible thumper who had previously decried the other Returned popping up all over the world as the work of Satan, is overjoyed by her own son’s return. Harold is not so sure, and he isn’t the only one. As more and more Returned come back to life, the country and the world begin to overflow by the vast increase in global population. The Returned are discriminated against, confined to prisons and detention camps, and often killed (they don’t come back to life immortalized). As their world and society crumble away due to the rising of the deceased, Harold and Lucille do their best to protect the son they had lost and pick up the pieces of their long since shattered lives.

I was very intrigued by the premise and to see how Mott handled a topic as surprisingly unconventional as resurrected beings, and I was pleased to see that he capably did so. Mott’s writing is somewhat dry, but the characters are drawn with all the complexity one would expect of good fiction writing, and develop accordingly throughout the course of the novel. The plot moves somewhat sporadically, and advances by jumping weeks or months ahead of time frequently, which unfortunately made the the overall plot seem disjointed at times. Overall, though, the payoff makes the read worth it. The return of lost loved ones may be what all of us desire at certain points, perhaps even everyday throughout our lives. Mortality doesn’t work that way. Instead, we must persevere and hold onto the love we felt for those we’ve lost, and use that love to help shape our relationships with the living.

Death of a Nightingale, by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnette Friis. Published by Soho Press.

Death of a Nightingale, by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnette Friis. Published by Soho Press.

Death of a Nightingale by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnette Friis is the second book from Soho Press I picked up while attending last year’s BEA. It is the third entry in the authors’ Nina Borg series and takes place in Denmark. Again, it’s hard to pick up a series in the middle when the characters have already developed in previous books, but like A Blind Goddess, I was able to jump into Death of a Nightingale with little difficulty.

Nina Borg, the series’ eponymous character, is a Red Cross nurse in Denmark where she works at a crisis center. At some point in the past (probably in one of the previous books in the series), Nina met Natasha Doroshenko, a Ukrainian woman who fled to Denmark after her husband was brutally murdered in Kiev. Now, Natasha is once again on the run from an abusive fiancé, but while on the run he too is killed in the same manner as her first husband. Natasha, who was suspected for the murder of her first husband, is the prime suspect in this murder, and she escapes from police custody in a desperate attempt to get to her child in the Red Cross crisis center and escape from Denmark. While Natasha is on the run it is up to Nina to clear Natasha’s name, but Nina is unaware that lurking behind the murders is a sinister presence from Russia’s sordid past that will stop at nothing to find Natasha and her child, and silence them forever.

Death of a Nightingale is another solid mystery published by Soho Press. The characters are all believable, and the Danish setting is actually quite alluring. The action is broken up into a few different interweaving plot threads, and the authors manage them all deftly. These different threads all come together at the end for a dramatic and satisfying conclusion. Like the Billy Boyle series, I probably won’t go out of my way to pick up another entry in Nina Borg’s series. Though, if I come across another, I won’t have any qualms at all with reading it.

Deadly Heat by Richard Castle. Published by Voice.

Deadly Heat by Richard Castle. Published by Voice.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I love Castle! Though this season hasn’t been the series’ strongest, it is still my favorite TV series, and this makes the tie-in novels all the more satisfying to me. Deadly Heat is the fifth in Castle’s Nikki Heat series, and it features all the twists, turns, bullets, and explosives as the previous books as well as the TV show on which the books are based. Just a disclaimer once again, the author, Richard Castle is a fictional character on a TV show. He doesn’t exist. The Nikki Heat books are ghost-written. With that out of the way I must admit I may be biased toward the Nikki Heat series due to its connection to Castle, but these books have proven that they are more than just a cheap way for ABC and parent company Disney to cash-in on the success of the show. They are fantastic mystery novels in their own right.

Deadly Heat picks up right where Frozen Heat left off. Nikki Heat has found the people responsible for her mother’s murder and is on a mission to bring them all to justice. Having dealt with her mother’s murderer, Nikki now sets her sights on the people who might be able to tell her why her mother was murdered. But Nikki is interrupted by her duties as an NYPD cop, and when it’s discovered that a serial killer is on the loose, New York’s finest turn to Nikki to track him down. Nikki wavers as she is torn between her desire to hunt the people who had her mother killed while the trail is still hot and her duty to the people of New York as a cop. But she had better make up her mind quickly as the serial killer has named her as his/her next target. Good thing Nikki has her colleagues who have her back, and her ruggedly handsome professional and romantic partner, Jameson Rook, at her side.

Deadly Heat is definitely an improvement over Frozen Heat. The plot pacing is back on track this time around and the book doesn’t suffer from the two cases running side-by-side. The characters are just as lovable as always, and reminiscent of their influences on Castle. It is still somewhat difficult not imagining the actors from the TV series as the characters in the Nikki Heat books, but that isn’t anything to worry about as the characters themselves are more than capable of standing on their own. The story is just as frenetic as an episode of Castle with plenty of red-herrings, false trails, and setback to keep the reader guessing right up to the (as always) action-packed conclusion.

The Rent Collector, by Camron Wright. Published by Shadow Mountain.

The Rent Collector, by Camron Wright. Published by Shadow Mountain.

Switching gears from mystery and the speculative, the last book I have for this post is The Rent Collector, by Camron Wright. I picked up this book at last year’s BEA as I like to keep up with what the publishers back home in Utah are doing. I found myself pleasantly surprised by The Rent Collector as it is an ambitious work of literary fiction that is based on actual circumstances found in Cambodia where the novel is set.

Sang Ly and her husband, Ki Lim, are scavengers living on the cusp of Stung Meanchey, a large garbage dump on the outskirts of Cambodia’s capital and largest city, Phnom Penh. Each day, they traverse the hazards of the dump collecting items to sell or have recycled in order to eke out an existence for them and their sickly young son. Hovering over their heads is the eponymous rent collector, an old, bitter drunkard who patrols the property demanding that Sang Ly and her neighbors pay their rent and threatening to turn them out of their meager homes if they don’t. This is difficult for Sang Ly and Ki Lim as they try to make enough to provide for themselves and for their unhealthy child. Sang Ly realizes that the caustic atmosphere of Stung Meanchey is setting her family on course to destruction, and knows that they must escape somehow. One day, she finds a children’s picture book while scavenging the dump. Though Sang Ly is illiterate, she takes the book home hoping that her son may take an interest in the pictures. This gives Sang Ly an idea. Perhaps she can escape Stung Meanchey by becoming literate, and she finds an unlikely teacher. However, being literate may not be enough to undo the damage already done by Stung Meanchey to Sang Ly and her family, and, when push comes to shove, Sang Ly must rely on her own tenacity if they are going to survive.

The Rent Collector is definitely a good read, with great characters whose tragic struggles and lives are so different from our own. I can heartily recommend it as being worth the time of anyone that may be interested in reading it. However, I don’t think The Rent Collector quite succeeds in its literary aspirations. Part of this is due to the fact that the novel is being narrated in English though the characters are actually thinking and speaking in Cambodian. Wright mostly does a good job easing readers into the gaps created by the different languages, but it is still confusing at times and readers must simply shrug their shoulders and continue reading. The book also comes to a bit of a contrived conclusion. Far be it from me to want a happy ending, however, it seems that Sang Ly’s quest for literacy isn’t what saves her family so much as the extenuating circumstances that occur while she is working toward her literacy goal. This turns the importance of literacy, one of the central themes of The Rent Collector, into more of a plot device than something of real, useful value.

Phew! That’s it for the post. I still have enough books to write about for probably two more posts, so I’ll get to those next time.

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