Category Archives: setting

Laline Paull — The Bees

A delightful story. So much imagination. The author obviously did extensive research about bees, but the story is humanized. There are many underlying themes—worship of royalty, class division, environmental issues, and more. Flora is an unusual bee, working her way up the hierarchy of hive society.

Who would have thought that a novel about bees would have a good plot, action and suspense, complex characters, family connections, love…and a very realistic setting. Thumbs up for an excellent first novel from Laline Paull.

Peter Heller — The Painter

What a great writer! I loved this book. First person, in-his-head, emotional — sad, happy, angry, love, sorrow, hate, frustration,  rage, confusion, delight, disappearing into the moment. It’s all there.

The story is written from the point of view of an artist-slash-fisherman. The setting is Colorado and New Mexico. Heller captures the setting, atmosphere, weather, wildlife, surroundings, whatever, like no one I’ve read. I saw it and felt it, even smelled it, while reading. I grew up in Colorado and it was easy for me to put myself there. But I believe you would be able to picture it even if you’d never visited the region. The painter protagonist was in tune with the environment around him, loving it and getting lost into it as he fished and painted.

But I make it sound like a gentle story and it wasn’t. It was full of roiling emotions, passion, stalking, and murder. I almost didn’t read it because of the way it began. A two-page prolog had the painter drinking in a bar and shooting the man on the stool next to him for making a comment about his daughter. (I guess it was a prolog. It wasn’t labeled that way.) I continued reading because I read Heller’s The Dog Stars and liked it. So I gave the book a chance. It only took a few more pages to capture me.

I’m not going to give away any more of the plot. Try it. You’ll like it.

Jordi Puntí – Lost Luggage

Four brothers (Christof of Frankfurt, Christophe of Paris, Christopher of London, and Cristòfol of Barcelona) never knew the others existed until their shared father disappears. The authorities in Barcelona notify Cristòfol that his father, Gabriel Delacruz, is missing and his apartment is abandoned. When Cristòfol visits the apartment he discovers the other three brothers and contacts them. The four brothers set about tracing their father’s history, sharing stories about how he met their separate mothers and his adventures on the road as an international mover/truck driver. None of the brothers or their mothers have seen Gabriel in many years.

The book is full of stories and sidetracks which all relate to the central plot or theme. It is filled with fascinating characters and wonderful settings. The writing contains humor and trickery, pain and sadness, connections and disconnects. It took me much longer to read than I normally take with a novel, partly because at times I would lose track of long ramblings. But I kept picking it up to continue because it is imaginative, fanciful, humorous, and very well written. Even though it’s likely classified as a literary novel (which I don’t usually read), it has a definite plot and the mystery of, “What happened to Gabriel?”

This book was translated from Catalan.

Donna Leon – By Its Cover

Donna Leon is an ex-pat from New Jersey who has lived in Venice, Italy for the past 30 years. In her Commissario Guido Brunetti series, while leading us through the waterways of the old city, she plunges us into the slow-paced atmosphere of Venice’s culture – its beauty, food, people, and problems. By Its Cover has Brunetti looking into the theft of rare antique books and pages (illustrations and maps) cut from books in a library. An ex-priest who was a possible witness to some of the thefts turns up murdered.

I find the pace of this story interesting as Brunetti starts his investigation apparently relaxed and not too concerned and increases his tempo and concern to the point where is barely taking time out to eat or sleep before he solves the crime.

Leon’s settings are fascinating and her plot keeps you reading, but for me the best part of her writing is the characters.

Ingrid Thoft – Loyalty

Ingrid Thoft’s first novel, Loyalty, features Fina Ludlow, a gritty Private Investigator in Boston who is the black sheep in a family of ambulance chasing lawyers. The plot twists and turns starting with Fina looking for her missing sister-in-law. The streets of Boston felt very familiar to me having spent much of my life there. Good story, good plot, good settings, good characters, and the book kept my interest from beginning to end.

Lori Flying Fish – A is for Aruba

Art in a book

The author/artist produced a beautiful ABC book about Aruba. You can see the time and effort applied to this book.  Every page is a hand-painted water color. Having visited Aruba, I feel at home with this book. This would be a great tool to capture children’s imaginations about a different place.

I wouldn’t normally read or review a children’s book, but I helped the author format and publish this book.

Steve Ruediger – P.S.: I’m Innocent

This story is a romp through Florida with the feel of “The Perils of Pauline.” The heroin, Lizzy, is a somewhat naïve, sexy, young woman who keeps `getting caught with her pants down,’ literally. She has a romantic interlude with the villain before she realizes he is a villain.

She stumbles over illegal aliens who are being shipped into Florida. She finds they are treated like slaves by a farmer who believes he is doing the work of God. She is shot at, kidnapped (twice), rescued by an old mafia don, later by her hero, and even once by a Florida panther. Although, she is pretty adept at rescuing herself.

It is fast paced and an easy read. There is plenty of violence and some romance. A little taste of everything for everyone.

Settings and Cultures

I love a story with a good setting. One that pulls you in and makes you feel as if you are there. The three books I’ve read this week are in very diverse places, but all made me feel I was in the worlds the authors were describing.

Tamarack County by William Kent Krueger is set in Northern Minnesota in the winter. Even though I’m here in warm, sunny Florida I felt the cold and the snow. I was shivering in my warm bed while reading. Krueger also surrounds you with a local culture – a mixture of small town and the “Rez” as he calls it. Native American culture weaves in and out of the story.

The Sea Detective by Mark Douglas-Home is set on the coast of Scotland. I could smell the salt air and feel the loneliness of a deserted village on a coastal island where fishing had failed and the families had relocated to the mainland.

Both of these books were good mysteries with complex plots and interesting characters. But what sticks with me is the setting and culture of each book.

The third book is entirely different – A True Novel (II) by Minae Mizumura. I picked this up by accident at the library, not realizing it was the second part of the story. (I’ll go back and find the first book.) The story is about a Japanese man who moves to New York and makes his fortune. Apparently the first book is set in New York, but the second book is all in Japan. I could picture it, feel it, (even though I’ve never been there) and sense the changes in the culture as time passes. This is not the type of novel I usually read. I think the setting is what kept me reading even more than the sad story.

Going back to some other books I’ve recently read and enjoyed, I believe setting is part of the attraction. Deborah Crombie’s The Sound of Broken Glass is apparently a book in a series. I haven’t read the previous books but had no problem jumping in at number fifteen. The setting is in South London’s Crystal Palace, a neighborhood of musicians, a village within the city. The Crystal Palace was a huge glass structure built for the Great Exhibition of London in 1851 in Hyde Park and rebuilt in an even larger version in an upscale neighborhood in South London in 1854. It burned to the ground in 1936, but the neighborhood still goes by that name. I was drawn into the neighborhood and the musical culture.

Lost by S. J. Bolton is more character driven, but the setting in the back streets of London captured me.

Colin Cotterill’s The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die is the latest of his stories set in Laos in the 1970’s. He brings you into this strange place on the other side of the world and he does it with humor.