Book Review: Return to Dust by Andrew Lanh

Return To Dust
A Rick Van Lam Mystery #2
Andrew Lanh
Poisoned Pen Press, October 2015
ISBN 978-1-4642-0426-5
Hardcover

Billed as a Rick Van Lam Mystery, the novel has more atmosphere and character than one usually expects from a good crime novel. As a consequence, the characters and their backgrounds take up far more space and time than does the careful, sometimes plodding, efforts of the novel’s detective, Rick Van Lam, to answer a rather simple question. Was Marta Kowalski murdered or did she simply slip and fall of a bridge while under the influence?

Rick Van Lam is an Amerasian, a sad by-product of that disastrous war in Viet Nam. Van Lam makes a dangerous trek to America as a young boy. Now he’s a relatively calm and accomplished investigator for a large insurance company. He’s stationed in a bedroom community outside Hartford, Connecticut, where lives a sizeable group of Hmong and other refugees from SE Asia. His relationship to the community is fraught because Lam is not pure blood and many in the small community resent his very existence. That attitude interferes with his investigation. It also offers the author many opportunities to expound on the unique troubles of this group of Asian transfers as they continue to struggle to adapt to their new country.

The woman who died seemed to be an inoffensive sort, semi-retired, she cleaned houses and apartments for a wide assortment of people in the small bedroom community and despite resistance at almost every turn, Investigator Lam persists, wading through thickets of prejudice, suspicion and occasional assistance. Ultimately, of course, he solves the mystery of Marta’s death and in the process, delivers a long and occasionally tortuous dissertation on the outflow of the disaster that was that war in Vietnam.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah

The Lines We Cross
Randa Abdel-Fattah
Scholastic Press, May 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-11866-7
Hardcover

My tongue is tripping over the terrifically timely topics touched in The Lines We Cross.  Universally relevant, remarkably well written; my personal recommendation for required reading resonates with me in an invigorating, inspirational way.

Generally, offspring look up to their parents, seeing them as large-and-in-charge with all the answers.  Beyond that, there is an inherent knowledge: parents are good people.  (My reminder to myself when first meeting Michael) an amiable, ill-informed adolescent supporting his parents’ new political party, Aussie Values.  And, it’s not as if his parents oppose Australia accepting refugees, after all.  Provided the emigrants are truly fleeing persecution (as opposed to those pesky “economic refugees”’) and they arrive via the magical queue, of course.

Then, Michael meets Mina.

Yes, it is a boy-meets-girl story; but in a boy-meets-radioactive-spider kind of way.

Mina and her mother had come to Auburn, Australia from Afghanistan ten years ago.  Forced to flee Taliban occupation among horrific loss, the two persist and painstakingly, rebuild their life.  A scholarship allowing Mina to attend eleventh grade at one of Australia’s top schools, affects the entire small family.  They choose to move their residence, along with the family restaurant to Melbourne.

Starting a new school is rarely easy.  Going from “…a kaleidoscope of cultures and ethnicities,” to being a “…cultural diversity mascot,” could be unbearable. For someone who has been smuggled out of a war zone, lived in a refugee camp, traveled on a leaky boat and spent months locked in detention, it was merely infuriating.

Not wanting the role of ‘refugee myth-buster’, but being too smart and courageous to keep quiet, Mina may seem too mature, thoughtful, compassionate and well-spoken to be a typical teen, but because I have the privilege of actually spending time with high school seniors, I can say that this is a spot-on representation. Ms. Abdel-Fattah has brilliantly broken-down misconceptions without beating down people to present one of the most important books I have ever read.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2017

Book Review: After the End by Amy Plum

After the EndAfter The End
After the End #1
Amy Plum
HarperTeen, May 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-222561-0
Trade Paperback

Juneau is the heir to the role of shaman in her clan. Whit, the current one, has trained her in the ways of connecting to what they call the Yara, a universal force that permeates all things. The adults fled to a remote region beyond Denali in Alaska after what they have told the children was World War III in the early 1980s.

She’s out hunting for caribou when she hears the frightening whump of a helicopter. While she’s been told that civilization has been destroyed, save for a few of what the elders call brigands, she’s heard this scary sound a couple times before and recognizes the threat it poses, so she abandons her kill and drives her sled dogs back to her village as fast as she can.

When she arrives, all clan members are gone and the dogs have been killed. Whit was supposed to be away on a retreat to a cave, but when she arrives there she realizes no one has been there for months. Her ‘reading’, a way she sees distant events and connects with other clan members, tells her that both Whit and the rest of her clan have been abducted, but Whit’s near the sea while her father and the others are much further away in what appears to be a desert location. This realization is the beginning of her odyssey, one where she intends to find and free her clan. When she reaches the sea, she’s stunned by the city and people she finds, forcing her to not only question everything she believes, but adapt quickly while evading pursuers.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Miles has been kicked out of his private school for a third major infraction and is working in the mailroom at his father’s pharmaceutical firm. He was headed to Yale before getting expelled. When he overhears his father talking about a valuable girl who is on her way to Seattle, he decides to go and find her as a way of redeeming himself. That girl is Juneau.

When their paths cross, it’s the start of an uneasy alliance that finds them equally frustrated and disbelieving, but the longer they’re together, the more Miles realizes Juneau’s telling the truth and the stronger their attraction becomes. There’s a lot of action, a need for readers to suspend a bit of belief, a neat budding romance and a cliffhanger ending. It was good enough for me to order the sequel immediately.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, January 2016.

Book Review: Forgiving Maximo Rothman by A.J. Sidransky

Forgiving Maximo RothmanForgiving Maximo Rothman              
A.J. Sidransky
Berwick Court Publishing, April 2013
ISBN: 978-0-9889540-0-7
Trade Paperback

Wow. What an undertaking. What an accomplishment. This intense detailed examination of several lives on three continents that spans six decades grabs and holds one’s interest immediately. It is in part a tale of the Jewish diaspora in the Twentieth Century, an obscure Jewish colony in the Dominican Republic, the sundering of families, and the support and damage the slavish observance of ancient tradition can bring. It is a tale of resolution of old wounds and new loves. And it is a tale of murder.

Max Redmond is bludgeoned to death in his apartment in Washington Heights. The New York detective assigned to the case is Tolya Kurchenko, whose family left the USSR. In the course of his investigation, he discovers diaries and records that resonate closely with his own estrangement from his father. Tolya’s father wanted him to attend Princeton, not become a cop.

Pursuit of the killer involves racial, religious, political and cultural dimensions. The novel is very well written, the characters are fascinating and the emotions and motivations are real. The story is not a slam bang action pumped thriller. Rather it is a meticulously and carefully detailed examination of several lives, multiple generations and the long-tailed consequences of their random and fateful interactions. This is a marvelous crime novel well illustrating it’s central theme that “Life is indeed too short to make enemies of those we love.”

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2015.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.