In the summer I am, hopefully, teaching a class on Supernatural Fiction. I was short a book, so while looking around I came across Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. The supernatural element here is witches, or Casters as they are known in the book, and they will pair nicely with the vampires, werewolves, wizards, and ghosts that feature in my other books. There is a movie version coming out soon, which was part of what drew me to the book because I like the added avenue of discussion that an adaptation brings to the class.

The plot was interesting and should appeal to college students. I liked that the besotted human is a boy instead of a girl–that is a nice change from the usual YA paranormal romance. While Lena, the young Caster, needs Ethan, her Mortal boyfriend, she is powerful on her own. Ethan grounds her and gives her hope for a positive future. That makes for a more positive relationship. Not that it is perfect, but there isn’t that sense of one being totally dependent on the other.

This is also a good introduction to the genre of Southern Gothic for readers. There’s a creepy old house that everyone avoids, plots within plots, and plenty of conniving people. While Gothic often just implies the supernatural and here it is a very real part of the plot, I read a lot of this type of story when I was in high school, and the book invoked a lot of the same feelings–and may lead modern readers to discover that not really knowing what’s going bump in the night can be a lot more unsettling.

My main issue with the book is that it is long–and I am not someone who shies away from complex and lengthy stories. But this could have been tighter. Some editing would have made the story tenser and more exciting. I should have been on the edge of my seat more than I was.

Before this, I read The Stranger, by Camilla Lackberg. It was previously published as The Gallows Bird, and I am not quite sure why they changed the title. I just know there were a lot of cranky people who bought a book they already read!

This is the fourth book in Lackberg’s Patrick Hedstrom series, which is set in a small Swedish town plagued with big city crime. The mystery plot was interesting, about a string of killings that may be the result of a serial killer, but no one is really sure, and the companion “at home” story line of Patrick and Erica preparing for their wedding and dealing with other family issues was also good.

I don’t know if it was the story or just that this is the fourth book I have read by this author, but I was able to figure out the twist really soon. It didn’t spoil the story–it was fun seeing everyone else figure it out–but I wasn’t as shocked by how things turned out as I have been with her previous volumes. I am looking forward to reading the next book, The Hidden Child, which was set up by the end of this one, so time will tell!

Murder in Iceland

March 14, 2012

I recently finished The Flatey Enigma, by Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson. It was a free lend through the Amazon Prime Kindle Library, so it was an easy investment. This was quite different from the other Scandinavian mysteries I’ve been reading. Firstly, because it is set in 1960, not the present. Although that may throw some people off, I think it was done to highlight the isolation and insulation of the people living on these small Icelandic islands. One of the characters hadn’t been off the island in over fifty years. There was only one phone–only a few people had a bathtub. While it may be still true today, I don’t think it would have the same impact with the advanced technology we expect. And because the culture was slower, so was the story–but not in a bad way. There is a relaxedness about solving the mystery that wouldn’t happen with a modern, big city setting. Add to that the fact that there is no flashy CSI-tech to solve the murder, and the result is a pretty good story.

The other element that made it different and fun for me, as a medievalist, was that the main story was interwoven with sections of The Flatey Book, a manuscript of saga tales–and a real one at that. And there is a reason for the two story threads, although that isn’t obvious until later in the story.

I have to admit I was a bit doubtful at first, but I enjoyed it.

Kim Harrison

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