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: 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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Book Review: Polaris Rising

Polaris Rising (Consortium Rebellion #1) by Jessie Mihalik

A space princess on the run and a notorious outlaw soldier become unlikely allies in this imaginative, sexy space opera adventure—the first in an exciting science fiction trilogy.

In the far distant future, the universe is officially ruled by the Royal Consortium, but the High Councillors, the heads of the three High Houses, wield the true power. As the fifth of six children, Ada von Hasenberg has no authority; her only value to her High House is as a pawn in a political marriage. When her father arranges for her to wed a noble from House Rockhurst, a man she neither wants nor loves, Ada seizes control of her own destiny. The spirited princess flees before the betrothal ceremony and disappears among the stars.
Ada eluded her father’s forces for two years, but now her luck has run out. To ensure she cannot escape again, the fiery princess is thrown into a prison cell with Marcus Loch. Known as the Devil of Fornax Zero, Loch is rumored to have killed his entire chain of command during the Fornax Rebellion, and the Consortium wants his head.

When the ship returning them to Earth is attacked by a battle cruiser from rival House Rockhurst, Ada realizes that if her jilted fiancé captures her, she’ll become a political prisoner and a liability to her House. Her only hope is to strike a deal with the dangerous fugitive: a fortune if he helps her escape.

But when you make a deal with an irresistibly attractive Devil, you may lose more than you bargained for . . .

Review:
I’ve never read a space opera before so I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. Polaris Rising was full of adventure, interesting characters, romance, and great world building.
Ada is strong, both mentally and physically, and can certainly fend for herself. She was raised in a cutthroat political family, but is now on the run, avoiding an arranged marriage. She meets Loch, a famous fugitive, and the sparks fly.
I found this a fun read, though there were times it felt slightly repetitive. There was a lot of detail given to the world building, which was occasionally distracting. This is certainly an adventure novel, full of gun fights, kidnappings, daring escapes, and space travel. It’s easy to get into and get lost in.
The characters were good, even if they felt a little stereotypical — this book was more about the relationships and the adventure than the character development.
Overall, this was an enjoyable read and a good escape from reality.
Thank you to Edelweiss+ and Harper Voyager for the review copy of this book.
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