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A couple of reviews

It's been a while since I posted so I'll pop a couple of reviews up of books I read last month. First up, West of the Moon by Katherine Langrish. I was immediately attracted by its Viking background and ordered it out of curiosity. West of the Moon is actually three books in one. The author wrote three shorter books, Troll Fell, Troll Mill and Troll Blood and West of the Moon is an amalgamation of these three books.

Peer Ulfsson is now alone in the world after his boat building father died, when an injury turned septic. The boy hopes to be taken in by kind villager friends but instead his Uncle Baldur - a stranger to him - comes to collect him. The man is huge and clearly oafish. He takes Peer away but Peer hopes that the other brother - Grimm - will be a little better. Of course... he is much worse. The two brothers are monsters and treat Peer as a slave. All the boy has to comfort him is his dog, Loki. Eventually he makes friends with a farming family who live on Troll Fell and meets Hilde, a girl of his own age. Her family make his life worth living... until Peer gets wind of a plot his uncles have to sell him to the trolls on Troll Fell. Things go from bad to worse when Peer discovers they also want a girl...

Three year after the events of part one, Peer is returning from a fishing expedition with his friend, Bjorn. He is now living with Hilde and her family on the farm. As he heads into the village with the catch, Bjorn's wife, Kersten, rushes at him, thrusts her new baby into his arms... and runs into the sea. A frantic search ensues but Kersten is not found. It seems there is some mystery about how Bjorn came to meet Kersten and it could involve seals. Meanwhile, Peer decides it's time to renovate the old mill that belonged to his uncles and is now his. But things are not straightforward. There's 'Granny' in the millpond, lubbers in the privy, and it seems the mill might be haunted as it's working at night with no one there. Added to all this, Peer finds himself attracted to Hilde but Hilde makes it quite clear that she thinks of Peer as a brother. Could Peer possibly have any more problems? Well, yes...

Part three takes place almost straight after part two. Visitors arrive at the village in a Viking ship. The captain is Gunnar and his son, Harald, a headstrong, confident character, immediately takes to bullying Peer. Gunnar has a new wife with him, Astrid. She suggests to Hilde that she would love her company on the ship's impending trip across the Atlantic to Vinland (present-day Canada). Hilde of course wants to go but her parents are horrified. Peer, in a rash moment, offers to accompany Hilde to keep her safe. Reluctantly, Hilde's parents agree. The voyage is long and hazardous and Peer is the constant victim of Harald's spite, but gains the respect of the rest of the crew quite quickly. But Astrid is not all she seems and Hilde begins to regret her decision to go on the voyage. Both Hilde and Peer regret it even more when they arrive in Vinland and make some horrifying discoveries. Will they ever see Norway again?

Sometimes when you've just finished a really good book all you feel like saying is, 'This was excellent, read it!' And this is one of those occasions. This YA fantasy was great fun from start to finish. Originally the attraction was 'Norway'. It's a country I've always wanted to visit but never have, so anything set there immediately acts like a magnet for me. But this book is much more than a Norwegian travelogue. It's peopled with characters both good, bad and also somewhat ambivilent. Just like real life really. It's a coming of age story for Peer, the main character, and not only concerns his struggles with whatever is going on in his life, but also his more private struggles with his feelings for Hilde... his guilt at feelings he has for a girl who is more like his sister than a potential mate.

The author has also filled the book with more mythical creatures than you can shake a stick at. Trolls a plenty of course, but also ghosts, Granny in the millpond... the lubbers in the loo are funny but dangerous, and then there's the Nis who cleans the house and befriends Peer. In book three the creatures are more Native American than Norse, but no less dangerous.

Part three in Vinland was definitely my favourite section. It's a real travelling adventure and turns very interesting indeed when native American tribes enter the equation. The author has done her research and this part is very realistic in content and for someone with a fascination for North America like myself, utterly fascinating.

It's not often that I don't want a book to end. As rare as hen's teeth in fact. But I could happily have read on and on and on about Peer and Hilde and was very sad to reach the end. I'm assuming there won't be any more... no mention of it anywhere so I'm not hopeful. Never mind. I can always read this one again - and very definitely will.

Next, Dark Hollow by John Connolly.

Ex-cop, Charlie Parker, is back in his home state of Maine after the events of the last year. I haven't actually read the first book but have gathered that his wife and little girl were murdered and Parker went after and killed the culprits. He's doing PI work in Maine and is after Billy Purdue who owes his wife some child support money. Charie catches up with him and obtains $500. He doesn't ask where the money came from and this turns out to be his first big mistake. Next thing, Billy's wife and child are brutally murdered and Billy is on the run. Charlie doesn't believe him capable of the murder, so who did it? There are many suspects including Tony Celli, a gangland boss, and a freakish individual who keeps appearing that Charlie doesn't know but fears instinctively. Deep-down though, Charlie feels the whole mess is connected to a serial killer his grandfather had dealings with, Caleb Kyle. And if that is the case no one will be able rest easy in their beds until the sadistic killer is apprehended.

My husband's been on at me to read John Connolly's Charlie Parker books for ages. I've also seen many mentions on various blogs, so I knew that this was a series that might appeal to me. I started on book 2, probably not the best place, but it was fine, a lot of the events in book one are explained as you go along.

I'm not a huge fan of the gangland, organised crime, sort of crime yarn, and there is quite a bit of that kind of thing in the book. Thus, I wasn't at all sure I was going to like it as I moved through the first few chapters and, to be honest, those were the bits I liked the least. But what I am a fan of is the kind of psychological crime yarn that Tess Gerristsen writes so well, and this reminded me quite a lot of her books, especially the Rizzoli and Isles story, Body Double. It's creepy and frightening quite frankly, with a large smattering of the supernatural thrown in for good measure. It seems this book is really a sort of crime/horror hybrid and I've decided I really like the mix.

The wilderness in Maine plays a huge part, the forests particularly, and Connolly is not afraid to give plenty of factual information about the state, its history, the logging and so on. It might seem like an odd thing to do in a work of fiction but, for this reader anyway, it worked like a dream. I was amazed to discover that Connolly - author of The Book of Lost Things and a favourite supernatural anthology, Nocturnes - is Irish and lives in Ireland. How he writes books set in the US so well I don't know, it could be of course that Americans can tell he's not American, but I certainly could not. I thought the book excellent and already have book three, The Killing Kind, on my library pile. I will also be adding it to my American states challenge list as I came away from it with a real sense of the state of Maine... and also wanting to visit one day.


Re: John Connolly's uncanny ability to write books set in America; your remark made me remember when I read Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith. It amazed me how believable the locale and the characters seemed. I thought the author must have lived in Russia for awhile, but his biography said no, and to be sure, when he wrote the book it was nearly impossible for Americans to visit anywhere in the Soviet Union. (The Soviets were afraid American visitors were all spies, and the US government was terrified they'd get infected with Communism! ...Liek, ZOMG!1!! Horrors! ...And stuff.)

Some authors are so good at soaking up atmosphere strictly through research, and writing as if they'd actually been there, it's almost scary.

Speaking of scary, the cover of that book is a bit shocking. I think if I came across a corpse hanging from a tree... any human corpse at all, under any circumstances where it shouldn't be, I'd go out of my head. I'm just funny like that...
I read somewhere that Connolly actually won one of the American crime awards for his Charlie Parker series so I'm guessing it's not just me who thinks he does 'American' very well.

Funny, you talking about how it used to be so hard for American (and Brits) to go anywhere in the Soviet Union. And I was watching a doc tonight about Mammoths and there were Americans from your universities (from Michigan as a matter of fact), French and our Brit presenter all wandering willy-nilly around Siberia... although a comment was made that they had a KGB 'official' with them. It all made me think of your comment.

LOL, well yes me too. I kind of assumed that the scene on the cover might be harking back a couple of hundred years. Er... not so.