Mabel and Jack are in their fifties, living on a homestead in Alaska in 1920. Mabel is grieving a stillborn child, and she and her husband hope to make a new life for themselves.
One night, during an unaccustomed bout of fun, the couple build a child out of snow. The next day, a mysterious little girl shows up on their homestead. Mabel is convinced that the girl is the snow child come to life, to be a daughter for her.
The rest of The Snow Child follows Mabel and Jack throughout the years on their homestead, as their “snow child” Faina grows up. They eventually learn the truth about her, but there still remains something otherworldly about the girl, even as she turns into a young woman. Jack and Mabel also befriend the Bensons, another local homesteading family with three sons. This is a very character-centered story, and very focused on the relationships between them. Love is explored in all sorts of forms–romantic, parental, friendship, for the land and for home. It’s very tender book.
Based on a Russian folktale (and this is made explicit in the novel), there’s a very strong element of the fairytale in the story. The atmosphere is incredible, right from the get-go. The Alaskan wilderness is vast and unforgiving, but not without its beauty.
The Snow Child is a beautiful book, in its settings, characters, and exploration of grief, growth, and love. If you liked The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro or Boy Snow Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, definitely give this one a look!
Tom Hazard has a rare affliction: he ages incredibly slowly. Each year for him is more like fifteen for the rest of us. As a result, Tom, born in 1581, is still alive today looking as though he’s in his early forties.
Tom’s under the protection of a shady sort of society, as are others like him. They’re the ones who keep him in fresh identities as the years pass, in return for some “odd jobs” now and then. And as long as Tom keeps a low, lonely profile, never falling in love or making long-lasting connections with others. But Tom is getting tired of the lifestyle. The only thing keeping him going is the memory of his long-dead wife and the hope that his daughter (who has the same affliction he does) might still be alive.
The book follows Tom in modern-day London, and fills in the backstory of his life. There are wonderful historical touches, particularly the scenes set in Shakespeare’s London. The glimpses of the past help to drive home the point that people have always, always been the same–and you get the sense of how annoying it must be to have to watch the same cycles played out over and over again over centuries.
Haig has such a compassionate way with his characters. The message of his novels, particularly this one, always has to do with the importance of being as good a human being as one can possibly be–to love one another, and to recognize one’s place in the grander scheme. In his novel The Humans, that scheme was the universe. Here, the scheme is time. It’s a funny, touching, hopeful, and humane study of love, loss, and history.
Case Histories is the first in Kate Atkinson’s crime series starring private investigator Jackson Brodie. In this first outing, Jackson becomes entangled in three old cases–a little girl who vanished from her yard, a young woman who was murdered while working at her father’s office, and another young woman who allegedly murdered her husband with an axe. One by one these cases are resurrected, and Jackson finds himself following the interwoven threads of all three.
The plotting is intricate, with lots of characters and several story threads all going at once. By the end every one of those threads has been tied up neatly, and it’s fun to watch them all fall into place. The pacing is leisurely, so it never quite reaches the crescendo of a suspense novel or even a mystery, but it’s still compelling all the way through. With her light touch and sense of humor, Atkinson also manages to make this novel seem like a light one–even though it deals with very heavy crimes, emotions, and dysfunction, nothing ever feels bleak or too dark.
The characters, and the wealth of personality and backstory Atkinson gives them, were all enjoyable. Jackson is a great PI–an ex-soldier and ex-policeman with a heart of gold. He’s got a tragic past and a rough present, complete with ex-wife and shared custody of a daughter. In all, he’s got a very kind and capable sort of vibe–he reminds me a little of a nicer, less manipulative, softer-edged Mackey from the Dublin Murder Squad books. At one point in the novel another character accuses Jackson of “becoming a woman.” Which, while not very nice or politically correct, does get the character across.
I’d offer these as a read-alike to those who enjoy the Dublin Murder Squad series by Tana French. The first is In The Woods. French’s work is darker and more disturbing, with a lot more of a psychological suspense bent, but the Jackson Brodie books still deliver a nice blend of police procedural, crime, and character-driven story. You might also enjoy Christine Falls by Benjamin Black, the first in a series about Quirke, a pathologist in 1950’s Dublin, or Deborah Crombie’s mystery series starring Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Sergeant Gemma James (the first is A Share in Death).
My personal Christmas favorite, anyway. It’s got love, friendship, reunions, an angel, zombies, lasagna, and a Christmas Miracle. What’s not to love?
The Archangel Raziel is on a special Christmas mission: He is to find one child and grant a Christmas wish. And little Josh Barker has a very special wish: for Santa to come back from the dead. Throw in just about every other Christopher Moore character you can think of, and you’ve got a chaotic Christmas party in the little town of Pine Cove.
Admittedly, Moore’s style isn’t for everyone. But if you’re one of the people it’s for, like me, then you’ll love this. The bawdy humor, the ear for dialogue, the wonderful characters, the creativity, and the genuine sweetness and affection for the characters.
And yes, shovels to the head. And talking fruit bats. And Zombie Santa.
Hey. You keep Christmas in your own way, let me keep it in mine.