Book Review: Flowers Over the Inferno

Flowers Over the Inferno (Teresa Battaglia #1) by Ilaria Tuti, Ekin Oklap (translator)

In a quiet village surrounded by ancient woods and the imposing Italian Alps, a man is found naked with his eyes gouged out. It is the first in a string of gruesome murders.

Superintendent Teresa Battaglia, a detective with a background in criminal profiling, is called to investigate. Battaglia is in her mid-sixties, her rank and expertise hard-won from decades of battling for respect in the male-dominated Italian police force. While she’s not sure she trusts the young city inspector assigned to assist her, she sees right away that this is no ordinary case: buried deep in these mountains are whispers of a dark and dangerous history, possibly tied to a group of eight-year-old children toward whom the killer seems to gravitate.

As Teresa inches closer to the truth, she must also confront the possibility that her body and mind, worn down by age and illness, may fail her before the chase is over.

Review:
I absolutely loved this book and already can’t wait for the next one in the series.
Teresa is a no nonsense police detective in Italy who has seen it all and has overcome the sexism of the police department. She is a brilliant profiler, but in this book, she comes across a murderer who can’t be profiled. She also experiences health problems and is starting to have issues with her memory, so she is against the clock to catch this unconventional killer.
Teresa is a fantastic character. I loved having someone older and relatable as the intelligent, sometimes short tempered, passionate police detective. She is determined and fallible, which makes her an interesting protagonist.
The mystery is unique and fascinating. There is an historical aspect to the book involving terrible Nazi experiments and that definitely added interest to the book.
Then there is the writing — even in translation this book is beautifully written, evoking the setting of the Italian Alps in the winter. I enjoyed just reading the great sentences and turns of phrases.
I also run a book box subscription that feature strong woman reads and this book was a no-brainer to add to one of our boxes. So far, our subscribers are also enjoying this book as well.
Thank you to Edelweiss+ and the publisher for a review copy of this book.
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Book Review: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

In 1936, tucked deep into the woods of Troublesome Creek, KY, lives blue-skinned 19-year-old Cussy Carter, the last living female of the rare Blue People ancestry. The lonely young Appalachian woman joins the historical Pack Horse Library Project of Kentucky and becomes a librarian, riding across slippery creek beds and up treacherous mountains on her faithful mule to deliver books and other reading material to the impoverished hill people of Eastern Kentucky.

Along her dangerous route, Cussy, known to the mountain folk as Bluet, confronts those suspicious of her damselfly-blue skin and the government’s new book program. She befriends hardscrabble and complex fellow Kentuckians, and is fiercely determined to bring comfort and joy, instill literacy, and give to those who have nothing, a bookly respite, a fleeting retreat to faraway lands.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a powerful message about how the written word affects people–a story of hope and heartbreak, raw courage and strength splintered with poverty and oppression, and one woman’s chances beyond the darkly hollows. Inspired by the true and historical blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the brave and dedicated Kentucky Pack Horse library service, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek showcases a bold and unique tale of the Pack horse Librarians in literary novels — a story of fierce strength and one woman’s belief that books can carry us anywhere — even back home.

Review:
I’ve been intrigued by the pack horse librarians ever since I heard about them a couple of years ago so I jumped at the chance to read this book. I was immediately drawn into this well-written and well-researched book.
This is the story of Cussy, better known as Bluet, a rare blue-skinned woman living in a severely impoverished area in Kentucky during the 1930s. Bluet gets a job as a pack horse librarian, bringing books to isolated people in the hills. She has a passion for books and loves her time in the mountains, visiting with and sharing books with her patrons, helping them to read and learn, keeping scrapbooks to share knowledge and recipes, connecting people.
Bluet also happens to have a rare genetic affliction which makes her physically blue. Her and her blue relatives don’t fit in anywhere and are shunned by everyone. However, her doctor is progressive and curious and is determined to study her and find out why she is the colour she is.
I loved this novel and got totally caught up in Bluet’s world, feeling anxious for the isolated mountain people and hoping they would find enough food, becoming friends with the dedicated school teacher doing her best to feed her student’s minds and bodies, feeling concern for her overworked father who has to take the risky jobs in the coal mines, and getting caught up in Bluet’s passion and dedication to her job and her absolute love of books and learning and sharing that with those she meets.
This is an inspiring novel, tackling a difficult time in history, when women didn’t often hold jobs, racism was rampant, and poverty was everywhere. The book tells people’s stories in a way that I couldn’t put down, that tore at my heart strings, but at the same time was optimistic. Richardson tread the delicate balance between heartbreaking and moving and a difficult past in a beautifully told story.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a review copy of this book.
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Book Review: The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes

The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes by Ruth Hogan

Masha is drowning. Once a spirited, independent woman with a rebellious streak, her life has been forever changed by a tragic event twelve years ago. Unable to let go of her grief, she finds solace in the silent company of the souls of her local Victorian cemetery and at the town’s lido, where she seeks refuge underwater – safe from the noise and the pain.

But a chance encounter with two extraordinary women – the fabulous and wise Kitty Muriel, a convent girl-turned-magician’s wife-turned-seventy-something-roller-disco-fanatic, and the mysterious Sally Red Shoes, a bag lady with a prodigious voice – opens up a new world of possibilities, and the chance to start living again.

Until the fateful day when the past comes roaring back…

Review:
I loved this book. It had me hooked with the cover and the synopsis, and the story did not disappoint. Hogan’s writing is wonderful and I found myself liking the book better as the story went on.
This book is about grief. Masha’s son died at a young age and she never got over it. Two wonderful women come into her life, the eccentric Kitty and the elusive Sally Red Shoes and they help to teach her lessons that she needs to move on.
This really is a touching story and my heart grieved for Masha and her loss. I loved her big dog and the walks they took in the graveyard, the dinners she would get dressed up for with her interesting friends, and even how her trauma informed how she looked at the world. She definitely grew as a character and it was wonderful to experience.
Grief is a difficult subject to write on and Hogan did a beautiful job with a book that really touched me and made me think, laugh, and cry.
Thank you to Netgalley and Two Roads for the review copy of this book.
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Book Review: Rabbits for Food

Rabbits for Food by Binnie Kirshenbaum

A heartbreaking, irreverent, laugh-out-loud funny meditation on what it’s like to lose your mind from acclaimed novelist Binnie Kirshenbaum.

It’s New Year’s Eve, the holiday of forced gaiety, mandatory fun, and paper hats. While dining out with her husband and their friends, Kirshenbaum’s protagonist—an acerbic, mordantly witty, and clinically depressed writer—fully unravels. Her breakdown lands her in the psych ward of a prestigious New York hospital where she refuses all modes of recommended treatment. Instead, she passes the time chronicling the lives of her fellow “lunatics” and writing a novel about how she got to this place. Her story is a hilarious and harrowing deep dive into the disordered mind of a woman who sees the world all too clearly.

Propelled by stand-up comic timing and rife with pinpoint insights, her examination of what it means to be unloved, and loved; to succeed, and fail; to be, at once, both impervious and raw ultimately reveals how art can lead us out of—or into—the depths of disconsolate loneliness and piercing grief. Rabbits for Food, Kirshenbaum’s first novel in a decade, is a brauvra literary performance.

Review:
I’ve just finished reading Rabbits for Food and I’m not completely sure how I feel about it. It is definitely a vivid and compelling story of a woman, Bunny, and her life experiencing mental illness. The story is told unapologetically and with humour, shining light on some of the darkest days that people with severe depression often have. There are brilliant glimmers of thought and realization, along with explorations of despair.
Bunny, herself, is not all that likable, but she’s been severely depressed for years. She’s not often even been liked by the other people in her life, not even her family. Her spiraling mental illness is hard to witness and is incredibly sad. There are clear moments of writing where the author vividly captures what it is like to be clinically depressed and these are necessarily disturbing.
Finally, Bunny ends up in the psychiatric ward of the hospital where she refuses all drug treatment and therapy. There she writes and evaluates the other “psychos”, which broadens the scope of mental illness in the book. Again, there is an honesty presented, like the author was explaining a personal experience or that of someone close to her (or she did a lot of great research — I don’t know enough about the author to claim to know her personal story!).
Perhaps I found the book difficult because mental illness is difficult and everyone has different reactions and symptoms. There is no one size fits all cure and doctors are often guessing at which treatments will be effective. I do like the humour the author used when discussing this subject because I think humour helps in hard situations.
Thank you to Edelweiss+ and the publisher for the review copy of this book.
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