A January Riffle of Reviews

I've been having a good reading month!  Here are some of the more notable books I read in January.  I've also joined a daily chapter of Les Miserables, which I'm really liking so far, and I'm reading Letters From Russia, the record of a Frenchman's 1839 tour.  It's fascinating, and also nearly 700 pages long, so it will take me a while.

 The Wife of the Gods, by Kwei Quartey -- the first in a series, or at least a pair, of detective stories from Ghana.  Darko Dawson is a CID man in Accra, and he's called to his mother's ancestral village (now a town) to investigate the murder of a young medical student.  As Darko wends his way through a maze of local politics, traditional beliefs, and family history, he is also wrestling with some of his own demons.  It's a good, solid mystery with great characters and lots of cultural detail, so I really enjoyed it.

The plot hinges on adinkra cloth, which this cloth is not

North to Paradise, by Ousman Umar -- this is a short, fascinating, and wrenching memoir.  Ousman was a young boy with almost no education, just 12, when he left his home village in Ghana with the ambition of working his way north to the land of the whites -- Europe.  It wasn't that his life was terrible, but he wanted to see the world.  It took him a good five years, crossing the desert, working as a mechanic in various cities, saving up for the next piece of his journey.  Eventually he ended up in Spain, where he got very lucky indeed; still a minor, he was adopted and able to get his education.  Now he has written his story and has an organization to fund better education in Ghana, so that kids won't feel the need to leave home and take on the dangerous life of a migrant in hopes of finding a better future.

The Story of Roland and the Story of Siegfried, by James Baldwin -- I brought home a couple of those old-fashioned storybooks for the winter break.  I always have a really hard time keeping the Siegfried story straight and I hoped this would help me, and I thought Roland would be fun to read about.  They were both a bit overblown in language, but fun to read, and Baldwin (not that James Baldwin, a different one) correlated a lot of accumulated legend with both of them.  I tell you what, Roland has some wild adventures!  And I'm better at Siegfried now too.

The Forgetting Room, by Nick Bantock -- the last Bantock book I read, The Venetian's Wife, was pretty disappointing but I still can't resist the combination of collage art and story that Bantock is known for.  And this one was worth the read.  Armon hasn't seen his grandfather, a Spanish surrealist artist, in many years, and now he's been left the family home in Ronda -- an old city cleft by a deep river gorge, with a famous bridge.  Armon finds his way into the artist's studio, called the Forgetting Room, and discovers a riddle his grandfather has left him.  Solving it will help Armon come to terms with his family's past and his own self.  I liked this one pretty well.

The Inugami Curse, by Seishi Yokomizo -- I really liked the Honjin Murders last year, and was looking forward to getting my hands on the next one.  The cover is irresistible!  The Inugami family is a wealthy one, and riven by internal tensions.  The patriarch has left a bizarre will behind that has made everything worse, and pretty soon people are dying -- but who is committing these horrific murders?  Kosuke Kindaichi is on the case.  The newly post-war setting, with soldiers making their way home, makes it all more mysterious.  This is a good one.

Frozen Time, by Anna Kim -- this is a novella? (about 120 pages) and is the story, in a sort of stream-of-consciousness second person way, of an unnamed woman who works for the Red Cross, helping displaced Kosovars search for missing relatives.  As she gets to know a man whose wife, Fahrie, went missing seven years ago -- taken by a Serbian militia looking for weapons and money -- she becomes more personally involved and accompanies the man to Pristina when his wife's remains are discovered.  I'm not a big fan of second person narrative, but the point of the novel -- how survivors become trapped in 'frozen time' as they search endlessly for the missing -- is movingly portrayed.

The Girl in the Locked Room, by Mary Downing Hahn -- a spooky middle-grade novel by the author of Wait Till Helen Comes?  Yay!  Jules is tired of moving every year as her father renovates old houses all over the country, and she really hates Oak Hill, the nearly ruined stone house that's planned to become an inn in the center of a new housing development.  It looks haunted, and Jules has always been an anxious type.  Oak Hill is, in fact, haunted, by a little girl who has been hiding in a locked room for over a hundred years.  Jules and her new friend Maisie make a plan (inspired by DWJ's Chrestomanci stories!!!) to help Lily find her way home again...this was a great story and I loved the DWJ shoutout.


  1. I enjoyed Wife of The Gods for its cultural insight too. The details about patterns on the textiles of dresses was particularly fascinating.

  2. An excellent reading month! I should do one of these wrap-ups too, maybe I will put that on my docket for this weekend. I did a lot of reading in January but I don't know that there were a lot of tremendous standouts, so I'm hoping for a better reading year going forward.


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