My First 4 Books Read in 2022
I started this post a month ago and forgot about it - but I still feel like it's relevant, so here it is....a little late. I feel like I'm off to a strong start with this year's reading. I have 4 books under my belt (more now!) and two were really good - here's my take on Lightning Strikes by William Kent Krueger, The Swallowed Man by Edward Carey, Billy Summers by Stephen King, and The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, in the order I read them.
Lightning Strike #0 Cork by William Kent Krueger
Published August 2021, 385 pages
I loved this book! This is the prequel to the Cork O'Connor series, which I haven't started yet, though it's been on my TBR for awhile. When I saw this one show up as the prequel, I took it as a good reason to start at the very beginning. Just like Ordinary Grace, it's a story of a young boy coming of age through difficult circumstances.
Cork is 12 years old and living with his parents in a small town in Minnesota where his dad is sheriff both of the town and the nearby reservation of the Ojibwa (Chippewa) tribe. Dad is Irish and his mom is part Ojibwa so Cork's grandma and many of his friends are Native American and he spends much of his time outdoors camping and running around with friends.
A Native man dies of apparent suicide and the division between the white sheriff and the tribal members gets deeper throughout the investigation as clues begin to develop that indicate the death wasn't suicide. There are twists and turns and a final solution, of course. But, along the way Cork struggles with the loss of a friend, the prejudice expressed by Natives and whites alike, the distrust from his friends, keeping secrets - all the things involved in growing up. Thoughtful and with a respectful representation of the Native situation, I found this book totally engrossing and am looking forward to reading more of the series.
I didn't give the book a 5 because I felt like some of the thoughts and actions of Cork were too mature. But, then he'd be a kid again. I suppose we all have times in our growing up where that happens, but he was only 12 and some of those logic leaps were pretty big.
The Swallowed Man by Edward Carey
Genre: Fantasy (?)
Published 2020, 160 pages
This is one odd little book. Definitely a quick read with some interesting language, but not what I was expecting. "A parable of two maddening obsessions: parenting and art-making." Hmmmm. I guess I can see that. With some humor and some thoughtfulness, the story is a mash up of Jonah and the Whale and Pinocchio and is the imagining of the years Geppetto spends in the belly of a whale. It's his musings, his anguish at the loss of his son Pinocchio, the way he manages to survive, etc.
“I am bald, I confess. There is no hair on the top of me. It ran away years ago. There is something very crude – something, why not say it, lewd – in the bald head of a human. The roundedness of it is at once comical and distressing. It is too intimate, it reveals too much, does the naked shiny topmost. As if I had my bare bottom on display. It makes a mockery of the dignity of the human species. It is a kind of autumn, when the head starts to lose its shelter.”
Billy Summers by Stephen King
Genre: Thriller (not horror)
Published Aug 2021, 515 pages
Another excellent read to start off my year. I avidly read all Stephen King for years and then have fallen off the last few years. This one makes me happy to have picked him up again. Loaned to me by a friend, I tore through this story of Billy, a killer for hire - but he only kills "bad" people who deserve to die. He's decided this is his last job, he's a professional, what could go wrong? Everything.
Billy is such an interesting character with a good balance of 'good' and 'bad' characteristics and the addition of Alice allowed him to show his humanity. I enjoyed the intricate planning of his 'hit' and the contrast of the persona he showed his employers versus the sharp, detailed mind he actually had. The trope of not being paid for work and then going after the employer (ala Mel Gibson) was well handled and didn't feel trite somehow.
My friend pointed out a technique that King uses often in his stories - the subtle crossover, whether people or places. When Billy was hiding out, he and Alice discover a burned out hotel in the valley. When Billy goes to a nearby small cabin to write in his journal, there's a painting that keeps changing. The hotel is the Overlook from The Shining which burned down at the end of the book and the painting is of the hotel and, you may remember, the shrubbery kept moving around the hotel, just like in the painting. Damn, that's clever, subtle, and only avid fans would pick up on the detail. I sure didn't.
Strong, engaging story, strong characters, so fast paced you don't even notice the page count (short by King standards). Definitely a good way to enjoy King even if you're not a fan of horror because there's not a spec of a slimy creature or something following Billy in an empty car.
The Hazel Wood #1 by Melissa Albert
Published 2018, 359 pages
This story of a single mom, Ella, and her teen daughter, Alice, is unusual. The pair have been on the run for all of Alice's life, running from the strange bad luck that follows them everywhere. Suddenly her mom is abducted and Alice discovers she's been taken to Hinterland, the fairytale land of her Grandmother's famous cult-favorite book. Alice has no choice but to follow and try to find/save her mom.
Since Alice has never been allowed to read the dark fairytale book, she enlists the help of a superfan, who knows the book inside out, to help her find Hinterland. The fantastical journey and what Alice learns about the magic of stories is clever and almost like a story within a story.
“I did it because a girl doing nothing in a fairy tale ends up dead or worse, but a girl who makes a decision usually gets rewarded.”
So Alice is drawn into the Hinterland and learns its secrets, fights and keeps looking for her mom. This is a complex story but entertaining and definitely with a dark undertone.
“There are no lessons in it. There's just this harsh, horrible world touched with beautiful magic, where shitty things happen. And they don't happen for a reason, or in threes, or in a way that looks like justice. They're set in a place that has no rules and doesn't want any. And the author's voice - - your grandmother's voice - - is perfectly pitiless. She's like a war reporter who doesn't give a fuck.”
How did your reading start off this year? Are you having good look choosing books to read? Peruse my extensive book lists and celebrity book clubs for lots of ideas for something new and different to read. You will find the book clubs at the top menu under Reading Lists.