The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
Kirkus Reviews –
Otsuka, whose first novel (, 2003) focused on one specific Japanese-American family's plight during and after internment, takes the broad view in this novella-length consideration of Japanese mail-order brides making a life for themselves in America in the decades before World War II.
There are no central characters. A first-person-plural chorus narrates the women's experiences from their departure from Japan until they are removed from their homes and shipped to the camps, at which point the narration is taken over by clueless whites. Rather than following an individual story, Otsuka lists experience after experience, piling name upon name. Voyaging across the Pacific to California, the women's emotions range from fear to excitement, but most, even those leaving behind secret lovers, are hopeful. Reality sets in when they meet their husbands, who are seldom the men they seemed from their letters and photographs. And the men's reactions to their new wives vary as much as the women's. Some are loving, some abusive. For all their differences, whether farm workers, laundrymen, gardeners or struggling entrepreneurs, they share a common outsider status. Soon the majority of women who stay married—some die or run off or are abandoned—are working alongside their husbands. They begin to have babies and find themselves raising children who speak English and consider themselves American. And the women have become entrenched; some even have relationships with the whites around them; many are financially comfortable. But with the arrival of the war against Japan come rumors. Japanese and white Americans look at each other differently. Loyalty is questioned. Anti-Japanese laws are passed. And the Japanese themselves no longer know whom to trust as more and more of them disappear each day. Once they are truly gone, off to the camps, the whites feel a mix of guilt and relief, then begin to forget the Japanese who had been their neighbors.
A lovely prose poem that gives a bitter history lesson.
Kirkus Reviews –
The death of an inoffensive veterinarian takes Commissario Guido Brunetti once more into the heart of the human beast. Even after the victim is identified--and it's a good long time before he is--the name of Dottor Andrea Nava's killer seems less mysterious than the question of why someone, anyone, would have stabbed him in the back three times and dumped his body into a Venetian canal. Although he's estranged from his wife, Anna Doni, she faints from either grief or guilt when Brunetti and his friend, Inspector Lorenzo Vianello, break the news to her. Clara Baroni, his assistant at the Clinica Amico Mio veterinary practice, can shed no light on his death. And although his sad little dalliance with Giulia Borelli, Director Alessandro Papetti's assistant at the slaughterhouse where he moonlighted part time, may have threatened his marriage, it hardly seems a weighty enough motive for murder. It's not until after a tour of the slaughterhouse brings Brunetti and Vianello up against the horrid realities behind the meat they placidly consume every day that Brunetti realizes that carcasses aren't the most bestial presences lurking there. Brunetti, who airily tells his wife Paola, "I don't do ethical," spends less time than usual (, 2011, etc.) butting heads with his nemesis, Vice-Questore Giuseppe Patta. But his conspiratorial dealings with his omni-competent assistant Signora Elettra and his suave attempts at acting dumb while he's questioning his few suspects are equally rewarding.
The Big Cat Nap by Rita Mae Brown
Kirkus Reviews –
A Virginia farmer and her remarkable pets celebrate the 20th anniversary of their first appearance in print with--what else?--yet another case of murder. Mary Minor Haristeen, aka Harry, and her husband, equine veterinarian Fair Haristeen, both enjoy the hard work and the many pleasures of farming in Crozet, Va. Born and bred there, former postmistress Harry has many friends, but her closest companions are her cats, Mrs. Murphy and Pewter, and her brave corgi, Tee Tucker. A minor car accident with her friend Miranda reminds Harry that the local ReNu, one of a chain of collision repair shops run by Victor Gatzembizi, is popular for its low repair costs. ReNu is also a favorite with another local businessperson, Latigo Bly, the owner of Safe & Sound insurance. A trip to ReNu to pick up the Very Reverend Herbert Jones' truck leads to the shocking discovery of the body of a mechanic, brutally murdered with a tire iron. The Sheriff and Harry's friend Deputy Cynthia Cooper know that the ever-curious Harry won't be able to leave the case alone. When more mechanics are murdered, Harry continues to investigate in between her farm chores and her work for the community. Her pets have pulled her out of danger many times in the past, but this time they have their paws full. Brown (, 2010, etc.) spins a thin mystery in which top honors go to the author's love for her beloved Virginia countryside and for her animal characters, who as usual steal the show.
Kirkus Reviews –
Lonely young woman meets mysterious stranger. What might have been trite and formulaic is anything but in Rash's fifth novel, a dark tale of Appalachian superstition and jingoism so good it gives you chills. Three miles out of town, in the North Carolina mountains, a massive cliff rears up. Beneath it is a cove, gloom-shrouded and cursed, so the locals believe, though all the out-of-state Sheltons knew was that the farmland was cheap. The story takes place in 1918. Both parents have died and their grown children, Hank and Laurel, are trying to cope. Hank is back from the war, missing one hand. Laurel has a purple birthmark; she has been ostracized by the townsfolk of Mars Hill as a witch. Rash's immersion in country ways and idioms gives his work a rare integrity. One day Laurel hears a stranger playing his flute in the woods; the sound is mournful but mesmerizing. The next time she finds him prone, stung by hornets, and nurses him back to health at the cabin. (What the reader knows, but Laurel doesn't, is that he's on the run from a barracks.) A note in his pocket tells her his name is Walter and he's mute. Laurel can live with that. She has low expectations, but maybe her life is about to begin. Hank hires Walter to help him fence the pasture; he proves an excellent worker. Laurel confesses her "heart feelings:" Walter is encouraging; Laurel cries tears of joy. Meanwhile in town Sgt. Chauncey Feith, a bombastic, deeply insecure army recruiter and faux patriot, is stoking fear of spies in their midst as local boys return from the front, some in terrible shape. Eventually Laurel learns Walter's identity; his back story is fascinating, but only a spoiler would reveal more. Let's just say the heartbreaking climax involves a lynch mob led by Feith; perhaps the cove really is cursed. Even better than the bestselling (2008), for here Rash has elevated melodrama to tragedy.