An Arctic Thriller with a Twist

Forty Days Without Shadow is a fast-paced murder mystery spanning everything from indigenous rights to geological exploration to the care and feeding of reindeer. (Yes, reindeer!) While the Norwegian village of Kautokeino prepares for the first sliver of sunlight in forty days, a thief breaks into the local museum and steals a priceless Sami drum. Tensions between the indigenous Sami population and the largely Scandinavian government are already running high, and the situation is further complicated when a Sami reindeer herder is found murdered.

As members of the Reindeer Police unit, veteran officer Klemet Nango and his rookie partner Nina Nansen usually spend their days resolving border disputes among reindeer herders. A Sami man who grew up in Kautokeino, Klemet knows most of the locals and helps newcomer Nina understand the town’s idiosyncrasies. When the pair is drawn into the murder investigation, they soon find themselves forced to navigate the tricky politics between Sami activists and government officials, while also avoiding a mysterious geologist who knows more than he’s letting on.

Author Olivier Truc offers a compelling look at Sami life and culture, and is able to use Nina’s newness to Kautokeino as a valid reason for Klemet to explain local customs and beliefs. Originally published in French as Le Dernier Lapon (“The Last Sami”), the novel is as much an anthropological examination of Sami culture as it is a thrilling mystery. It’s easy to see why this international bestseller has won twenty awards, including the 42d Prix du Mystère de la Critique (Best French Crime Novel of the year for 2013).

Fans of Scandinavian noir such as Smilla’s Sense of Snow, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Henning Mankell's Wallander series would likely enjoy this page-turner.


Literary Orange 2015: Leila Howland's Nantucket Blue

One of the authors who will be on our “Young Adult: Oh, the Drama!” panel at OC Public Libraries’ Literary Orange author festival on April 11th is Leila Howland.   She is the author of Nantucket Blue and Nantucket Red, two young adult novels for older teens, as well as the soon-to-be widely released middle grade novel, The Forget-Me-Not Summer

I just finished reading Nantucket Blue and absolutely enjoyed it!  Don’t let the dreamy cover image of a loving embrace on the shore fool you.  While romance is definitely key to this story, this is just one theme of an insightful realistic fiction novel.

Seventeen-year-old Cricket Thompson feels strongly that she needs to get away from her Providence, Rhode Island home for the summer.  She needs an adventure.  When her invitation to spend the summer on Nantucket Island with her best friend, Jules, falls through due to the sudden death of Jules’ mother, Cricket decides she will go to Nantucket on her own.  She finds a job at an island inn, working alongside a friendly and frank Irish girl who helps fill the gap left by the now distant and somewhat rude Jules. 

On Cricket’s days off she visits the beach, reading her mother’s teen diary – which she didn’t realize was written inside a volume of Emily Dickinson’s poetry, Cricket’s assigned summer reading -- regarding her own time in Nantucket years ago.  The diary introduces an astonished Cricket to her once daring and crazy-in-love mom.  Cricket herself begins spending a lot of time with Jules’ brother Zack, surprised and delighted by their strong attraction.  They keep their budding relationship a secret, however, due to the tension between the two girls.  And Cricket would love nothing more than a relief of this tension and a return to her former closeness with Jules.     

Cricket is a conscientious and thoughtful teen, but as happens to all of us, before the summer is over she has said and done a couple things she can’t “un-say” or undo.  She has to decide how to handle these situations: just let them go and lie low, or bravely make amends and face the consequences of her actions.

Nantucket Blue is a highly readable novel which focuses on the challenges of friendship, the joy of a healthy first love and the transition into young adulthood.  An important facet of this transition which the novel highlights is deciding how one will attempt to resolve interpersonal conflict and cultivate a sense of self-worth.

I’d recommend Nantucket Blue to fans of Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando’s Roomies and other teen fiction which combines a great slice-of-life story involving friendship and dating with enough depth to show us something about human nature.   

Cricket’s further adventures are detailed in Nantucket Blue's sequel, Nantucket Red.

Please join us at Literary Orange to hear from Leila Howland and many other authors!


Station Eleven

Check out Book Talk's first video! Book Talk blogger Sarita brings to life Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Take a few moments to hear more about this literary tale of survival which imagines the downfall of civilization due to a flu epidemic

This hugely popular novel was a finalist for the National Book Award and Literary Orange is honored and excited to have Emily St. John Mandel as this year's keynote speaker. Literary Orange will be held on Saturday, April 11, 2015. Attendees will have the opportunity meet keynote speakers Emily St. John Mandel and Anne Perry as well as over 40 other authors! Visit the Literary Orange website to learn more and register for the event!


Marriage at Midlife

David Nicholls built layers of romance and nostalgia with his time-jumping star-crossed lovers in OneDay. Nicholls returned last year with another look into personal histories with Us (Audio).

Douglas Petersen, scientist, punster, and all around mild-mannered regular guy, is on a mission to save his family (from himself, as it turns out, but he’s only able to see this in small glimpses of self-awareness). His wife of over 20 years thinks she just might want a divorce, and his only son, Albie, alternates between ignoring his father and despising everything he stands for. What’s a beleaguered man to do but plan an old-fashioned grand tour of the great art of Europe to bring the three of them together?

As the family crosses the English Channel with Douglas’ carefully planned and detailed itinerary in hand, their fragile peace begins to dissolve almost immediately, and Douglas takes the reader back to the beginning, when the sweet but decidedly uncool biochemist won the heart and hand of arty, beautiful Connie. Despite their differences, marriage eventually followed, and family. Douglas is a sympathetic character, but his honest narrative of their lives together shows that he is not a victim, but an active participant in the rift in his family. Like real life, there is little black and white here, only lots of gray. Connie and Albie, with their artistic interests and temperaments, have a bond that Douglas can’t crack, often excluding him in a way that can seem almost cruel. But later, we learn how Douglas’ own inability to appreciate Albie’s strengths and accept another point of view has played a large part in driving in the wedge between them. The grand tour becomes a farce when Albie runs away with an accordion-wielding street performer and Connie returns home, leaving Douglas alone abroad, trying to redeem himself.

It can be difficult to find novels about marriage – not the bloom of love that leads to a ring that drives so much chick lit, and not the deeply wounded spiraling in infidelity and divorce – but the more quotidian ups and downs of married life. Us does this, acknowledging that whatever happens between Douglas and Connie today has deep roots in their past, as well as repercussions for the future.

I also enjoyed Wife 22 (Audio) by Melanie Gideon for its portrait of a marriage gone not exactly wrong, but definitely ready for a tune-up. Gideon blends up to the minute social media references with humor and heart as Alice explores her early days with William through an anonymous online survey, contrasting the budding romance with the middle-aged challenges of teenagers, unemployment, and the distances that can accumulate across a queen-size bed.


Because survival is insufficient.

Melancholy, lyrical and subtle is not how you would typically describe a science fiction novel, but Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is precisely that, this literary tale of survival imagines the downfall of civilization due to a flu epidemic. The key storylines are set before and after the pandemic, jumping around in time and place. There is a cast of characters connected somehow to a middle-aged actor named Arthur Leander. The pre-pandemic story focuses on Arthur, his three ex-wives, his best friend Clark, and Jeevan, a paramedic who tries to save Arthur’s life. Arthur’s ambition to be famous causes him to lose touch with those dearest to him and live a lonely life. At the beginning of the book, Arthur has a heart attack while playing King Lear on stage. Ironically, like King Lear before his death, Arthur transforms as he comes to terms with reality and chooses to make amends with those he loves. Unfortunately, his transformation transpires too late.
In the world after the epidemic, the story centers on Kirstin, a young woman who witnessed Arthur's death as a child actor. She is now part of The Travelling Symphony, a theatre company that travels the post-apocalyptic wasteland bringing music and Shakespeare to the limited number of people who survived. Kristin clutches on to the memory of her brief childhood and a graphic novel, Station Eleven, Arthur gifted to her the night before the pandemic altered her world. It turns out the book’s creator was Arthur’s ex-wife Miranda. Miranda’s book is about a group of survivors who scramble to live on a manmade exoplanet that has slipped through a wormhole. Copies of the graphic novel and its plot resurface throughout, as do the characters from Arthur’s life. Moments from both the past and present are woven together to reveal the big picture of what occurred. Undoubtedly, the collective stories, from Shakespeare to graphic novels, connect everyone.

The disturbing and haunting narrative is remarkably tender, eloquently unfolding themes of survival, the fleeting quality of fame compared to the longevity of art, the impermanence of human life, and discernibly the love of the existing world and all its conveniences. It is refreshing to read an innovative approach to the genre and see the success of this novel, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. Emily St. John Mandel is a keynote speaker at Literary Orange 2015.