10 October 2013

Thursday's Review: All the Light There Was by Nancy Kricorian

A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for a review. 

Publisher: Houghton Mifflen Harcourt
Publication Date: March 12, 2013
List Price: $24.00 Hardcover
                  $ 2.99  Digital Edition 
Genre: Historical Fiction
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

It seems that the newest trend in Historical Fiction is novels about WWII.  There have been a number of books on this subject lately, and a lot of them are very good.  Nancy Kricorian's novel All the Light There Was is one of those books.  The story is narrated by Maral, and teenage Armenian girl living in Paris at the time that the Nazi's invade France and the Occupation of Paris begins.  Through Maral's eyes we see what it is like to have lived in Paris during the war.  Her character allows us to experience the fears and deprivations of living through a war torn country.  

I loved the way that Nancy tells the story of Maral, her family, and her friends in such a wonderfully personal way.  Along with giving me a really good picture of what life was like in occupied Paris, it allowed me to really become familiar with the characters in the book.  This personal way of telling the story reminded me a lot of the writing of Chris Bohjalian, who is one of my favorite authors.  Like Chris, Nancy is able to tell a story in such a way that you really feel that it is happening right there in front of you to people that you know and love.  

What sets Nancy's book apart from many of the others books currently out there that deal with life during WWII is the fact that Maral and her family are Armenian and not French.  This fact adds a dimension to the book that other stories do not have.  This is most evident in the way that her parents and the elders of the community relate this war and the actions of the Germans to the earlier Armenian Genocide that forced them to seek refuge in France in the first place.  I thought that intertwining these two historical events was an excellent move that gave this story a bit more depth than it might have had otherwise.   Along with the story of WWII, you got a bit of history about the Armenian Genocide, and you got a glimpse of life in a traditional Armenian family.  Three for the price of one, so to speak. 

My only disappointment in the story occurred toward the end.  There was a part of the story there where I could pretty much guess what the outcome was going to be, but the narrative took its time getting there.  As a result, I thought the story could have ended a bit earlier, or alternately, jumped over some of the last bit.  

The true measure of a book, though, to me is whether it entices me to learn more about the era or events presented and/or entices me to seek out more of the author's books.  In the case of All the Light There Was, it has done both.  I am really excited that Nancy has written two other books and will be adding them to my "to read" list.  In addition, I am curious about Armenian families and the Armenian Genocide and will be looking for more on that subject as well.  

08 October 2013

Tuesday's Review: Square of Revenge by Pieter Aspe

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for a review. 

Publisher: Pegasus Books
Publication Date:  June 1, 2013
List Price:  $24.95 Hardback
                   $14.95 Digital
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

The Square of Revenge is the first novel in the Van In mystery series by Dutch author Pieter Aspe.  Since I was not familiar with the author, I looked him up to see what other books he had written, there was a long list, most of them not in English. This leads me to believe that he is an established author trying to break into the US market.  

The premise for the book sounds intriguing.  A wealthy jeweler has his store broken into.  Instead of stealing anything the burglars dissolve his entire inventory in aqua regia, a substance that supposedly can melt even gold.  In addition, they leave behind a scrap of paper upon which is written four words in the situated in the form of a square.  Why would the burglars vandalize the shop, but not take anything?  What is the significance, if any, of the square of words. To Detective Van In and DA Hannelore Martens this crime seems to be very personal.  

When I decided to try The Square of Revenge, I wasn't sure what I would find.  From the synopsis, I thought this might be a "conspiracy mystery" book, similar to those of Dan Brown, Steve Berry, and Brad Meltzer, of which I am a big fan.  If not that, I was hoping for a good nordic noir mystery, based on the name of the author and the language that this book was originally released in.  In reality, though, this book did not fit into either of those categories.  It was more of a standard detective mystery in the style of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot books, or Nelson DeMille's John Corey series.   As such it was a good story with engaging characters and an interesting mystery.  For a number of the characters in the story I was not sure what their role was or why they were relevant until closer to the end.  I like this about mysteries as it keeps me guessing and that keeps me engaged.  I was a bit disappointed, though, that some of the connections hinted at in the beginning of the book were never really addressed, though.  In addition, there were several devices in the story that I felt the author could have given a bigger role, but which I cannot enumerate without giving things away.  It was unfortunate that some of these items were ones that I was most interested in at the beginning, they had such promise but turned out to be nothing, really.

I would still recommend this book for mystery buffs, but just be aware that it is a straight up mystery.  It is neither big on the suspense, nor would I call it a thriller.  As a mystery, though, it is an enjoyable and good read.  I intend to seek out other books in the series if I can find them in English.  I am interested to see how Van In and DA Martens progress and to learn more about their back stories.