The Toyotomi blades : a Ken Tanaka mystery by Dale Furutani

toyotomiReading mysteries set in interesting locations is one of my favorite forms of armchair travel. In this whodunit Ken Tanaka, who became an amateur detective when he solved a murder involving a samurai sword in California, is invited by a Japanese television show to an all-expenses-paid trip to Tokyo to share the story of his adventure. Descriptions of the nuances of his travels were especially entertaining.

Despite being a third-generation Japanese American, Ken experiences some culture shock as he interacts with the television studio team. He also learns something about himself and his identification as an American regardless of his ethnicity or minority status. His humble sense of humor is likable and the overall tone of the story is light.

In addition to traveling among the sights in Tokyo, Ken’s sleuthing propels him into a treasure hunt in rural settings near Kyoto. Japanese history and legends color this mystery nicely. The historical embellishments as well as some code deciphering are slightly reminiscent of a Dan Brown novel. However, descriptions of humorous missteps that occur while traveling in a foreign land lighten the tone of this book.

The Matchmaker by Elin Hilderbrand

matchmakerBook – Dabney Kimball Beech is the enthusiastic Director of Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce. Married to a famous economist  and professor, she has built a full life promoting the island and making a home for her husband and daughter, Agnes. She also has a gift for matchmaking, as over forty couples can attest. She sees a mysterious pink haze for a loving match and a bilious green haze when trouble will follow. When Agnes falls for the rich and controlling CJ, she ignores her mother’s warnings against the match. Then, Dabney’s first love, Clendenin Hughes, arrives back on Nantucket after being gone for more than twenty years. Dabney is forced to confront feelings she thought were behind her, even as events around her begin to spiral out of control. This novel explores love, friendship and second chances. I enjoyed spending time with these characters. It’s a great book to bring to the beach. Hilderbrand has written several novels, including Beautiful Day and Silver Girl.

The Other by Thomas Tryon

otherBook – I came across this book through Tor.com’s Summer of Sleaze, a series of reviews of old horror novels, where the writers refer to Tryon’s work as “a third of our horror roots,” along with Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist. I’d never heard of Tryon before, so I was intrigued. And I was not disappointed. In fact, I’d say my expectations were set unfairly low – after all, the review series is called “Summer of Sleaze.” There’s nothing sleazy about The Other. A little purple, maybe, but not sleazy.

Holland Perry is not a nice little boy. In fact, he’s downright sinister, pulling pranks that are more vicious than funny. (We find out on page three that he killed an old woman’s pet cat.) His twin, Niles, is a much friendlier young man, but he makes plenty of excuses for Holland’s increasingly outrageous behavior. This is a slow-building novel; we spend lots of time with the characters where nothing particularly awful happens, until quite suddenly it does. And although The Other was billed as horror when it came out, it’s much less supernatural than the other evil-child stories of its day. In fact, I’d call it a psychological thriller instead, with as much in common with Gone Girl or The Dinner as with more traditional horror novels.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

unlikelyBook – Fry is a recently retired shy British man, but his ordinary life takes an unexpected and spontaneous turn upon receiving a letter from a friend from whom he hasn’t heard in 20 years. Queenie writes that she is dying of cancer and Fry’s first response is to send a kind sympathetic response back, but a chance encounter with a stranger inspires him to walk 600 miles to the hospice where she is staying. He is convinced that if he walks, then she will live. Harold embarks with only the clothes on his back, the shoes on his feet, no cell phone and only a vague idea of directions. His journey gives him plenty of time to reminisce about his own life and he encounters many people on his way that he inspires and who in turn give him insight. His bewildered wife is left behind at home, her disappointment with their marriage further strained. Harold’s pilgrimage to reach Queenie takes 87 days. Will she still be alive when he gets there? Will his absence make his wife’s heart grow fonder or break them apart? A beautiful and emotional story of humanity, this would make an excellent book club read.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

eleanorBook- To quote Mr. Elton John, “It’s a little bit funny. This feeling inside…”

The year is 1986, in Omaha, Nebraska. This is a story about two misfit teenagers who were not looking for love, but fell into it together. Eleanor is a frumpy, fiery redhead with a broken family. Park is an  average boy who wears eyeliner, and has a father who oozes masculinity. Eleanor is new in town, and she is forced to sit next to Park on the bus. Park reads comic books and listens to mix tapes to pass the time. Eventually Park notices Eleanor reading the comics with him, and their budding romance (and friendship) begins.

This is not just another sappy young adult romance novel. It deals with issues including, racism, bullying, body image, and domestic violence. Children of the ’80s and early ’90s would enjoy this book for the nostalgic factor alone. If you’re looking for a quick, easy read, but one that will linger on your mind, this one is for you.

The Three by Sarah Lotz

3Book – On one fateful day, four planes fall out of the sky. Among the four crashes there are only three survivors, all of them children. It’s this fact – along with a rambling recording made by one of the passengers in the last moments of her life – that spawn conspiracy theories, widespread paranoia, and eventually a massive doomsday cult with connections in the highest levels of politics. What really happened on Black Friday? And could the doomsayers be right?

The Three is a book inside a book: most of the story is the fictional non-fiction account written by Elspeth, an investigative journalist, of the aftermath of Black Friday and the cults that rose up in its wake. In the end, we switch back to Elspeth’s point of view as she decides to follow up on what happened after the end of her book. I thought that some of the characters’ voices tended to blend together, but the overall pace of the narrative kept pulling me through the book anyway. I stayed up late to finish it, which turned out to be a mistake – this book has one seriously creepy ending.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

goldfinchBook – This Pulitzer prize-winning story has been likened to a number of classic coming-of-age tales from Charles Dickens. The central character in this novel, Theodore Decker, loses his mother during a tragedy that he himself survives at a New York art museum. The traumatic event, told from Theodore’s perspective, provides a compelling start for the book.

The audiobook for this title is narrated by David Pittu. His narration is exceptional as his voice conveys the pathos of young Theo and the psychic burden that overlays his life. Theo and his mother had been estranged from his father, and after the events in the museum Theo is housed for a time in a beautiful Manhattan apartment with the wealthy family of a socially-inept schoolmate. His appreciation for the art and antiques in the apartment touches upon on-going themes in the book: the immortality of masterpieces, the messages they convey through the ages, and the profound attachments individuals form with these pieces.

I was especially glad to be listening to the audiobook version of this story when Theo, as a teenager, develops a friendship with Boris, a boy from Ukraine. Both author and narrator played delightfully with the Slavic dialect. Boris is a wonderful character because he brought levity and perspective to the story, and David Pittu’s Boris was very likable.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

ancillaryBook – Breq is only a fragment of what she used to be – quite literally, in this case. Years ago she was Justice of Toren, the artificial intelligence of a starship of the Radch Empire. Back then she had hundreds of bodies, from the starship itself to her many ancillary soldiers, captured human enemies who were joined together as part of her vast intelligence, in the service of a high-status Lieutenant. But Justice of Toren was betrayed, although she isn’t quite sure how, by the many-bodied ruler of the Radch Empire, Anaander Mianaai, and Breq has a plan for revenge.

I picked up Ancillary Justice when it became apparent that it was going to be nominated for every major SF award this year. (Sure enough, it’s already won the Nebula and is on the Hugo ballot.) It deserves it. Breq is an unusual character, but a compelling one, and her world is utterly fascinating. In the scenes from the point of view of many-bodied Justice of Toren, Leckie does a great job of portraying the ship’s simultaneous multiple points of view without getting confusing; likewise the Radch’s complete disregard of gender is an interesting twist on a far-future society. I loved it, and I can’t wait for the sequel, Ancillary Sword, out in October.

My Real Children by Jo Walton

my realBook – Patricia Cowen is confused. “Very confused,” it says on her medical chart most days. She forgets things. But she remembers things, too. She remembers Michael telling her “It’s now or never” and saying “Now” and getting married and having his four children. She remembers Michael telling her “It’s now or never” and saying “Never” and traveling in Florence and raising three children with Bee. She isn’t sure which one of them is right, or if both of them are, but she’s sure it means something.

My Real Children is one of those novels that could only be written by Jo Walton. It’s science fiction insofar as it’s about one woman and two different lives she could have had, both of them in worlds that are not exactly our own. (The split occurs sometime in the early fifties, and history progresses in sometimes surprising ways.) But the real story, the point of the story, is about Patricia – Trish in one lifetime, Pat in the other – and her life and her family. It’s a little bit about might-have-beens, but more about the small choices that you make that make big differences, both to yourself and to other people. I loved it, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The House on Blackberry Hill by Donna Alward

house on bBook – I was looking for a nice light read with a plot and characters that would invite relaxation. I got it in The House on Blackberry Hill by Donna Alward.

Abby Foster has had a difficult life growing up and her experiences from then have colored her attitudes about the house and history that she’s inherited. She wants nothing to do with a heritage that was denied her and her only goal is to sell and run. In order to sell, she needs to get the house in better shape. In comes Tom Arseneault, the contractor determined to work on the Foster estate. His specialty is restoring old homes and he cannot bear to see a house stripped and sanitized instead of restored.

While bringing this estate back to life, both Tom and Abby deal with their pasts in the hope of enjoying a future together.

A really fun, sweet read with enough twists and misunderstandings to keep it from being sappy, yet not so many that it defeated the purpose of a light, fluffy read. I enjoyed the journey that Abby made and some of the self-realizations were very well written and not once did I roll my eyes (that has often been the case in other books of this weight.) I will definitely revisit this series and look forward to the next one coming out in October.