Interested in reading reviews/comments about the books chosen for the Tournament of Books? Our Adult Services Librarians (Tournament Judges) will blog about their choice here on the Buzz Blog. In Round 1, Part 2, Maryellen E. and Mary M. comment on their picks below.
Judge: Maryellen E.
Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
In Cuckoo’s Calling, Cormoran Strike is a private detective with issues, lots and lots of issues, yet they seem to work to his advantage when the brother of a model asks him to investigate his sister’s suicide. Galbraith keeps this fast-paced and engaging with a flawed hero/detective and a secretary with brains. Vividly brought to life by the author’s lush sensual descriptions, both are strong characters that complement each other. Throughout the novel, the inner life that the author describes adds to the depth and believability of the characters. This is also evident in the minor characters as well. London, itself, is part of the rich setting and the writing adds a depth and an extra layer to make this an out of the ordinary mystery. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have its flaws (some of the story goes on too long, interviews of witnesses and the drinking episode), but minor criticism for a satisfying read. Cuckoo’s Calling is a joy to read.
The Lowland is the story of two inseparable brothers: Sudhash, the dutiful son and Udayan, the brother who will risk all for what he believes. Set in India and America, the two brothers’ lives diverge, one studying in Rhode Island and the other marrying a woman his family does not except while fighting for a cause that will have far reaching ramifications for the family. This is a compelling if imperfect story of consequences of actions.
The story itself is absorbing, being told from all view points of the main characters.Yet the brother Sudhash and the woman, Gauri are unsympathetic and lack an inner life and often one was confounded as to the characters’ motives. It felt like their emotions were all underwater. It is in the writing that this story is saved. The author manages to convey the heartache of decisions forced by a ghost who felt more for others than for his own family.
Ruling: Because it is much more fun to read, I choose Cuckoo’s Calling.
Judge: Mary M.
The Son by Philipp Meyer
The Mourning Hours by Paula Treick DeBoard
The Son by Philip Meyer is a multi-generational and multi-narrative tale of the settling of the state of Texas. The saga sweeps from the Comanche raids of the 1800s, The Texas Rangers, The Civil War, the border raids of the 1900s to the oil boom of the 20th century. Unlike the sugar coated TV westerns of the sixties, this tough Texas historical fiction novel depicts brutality, blood, hangings, endless scalpings, greed and lust. It is a story of Eli McCullough, the patriarch, Peter McCullough his son and Jessica McCullough, Eli’s great- granddaughter, and their individual stories of survival and revenge.
The Mourning Hours by Paula Treick DeBoard relates a quiet story of a Wisconsin farm family who live an unassuming life of hard work, wrestling matches and softball games until one tragic event, the disappearance of a girlfriend of the eldest son, splinters the family. The characters are likable, realistic and totally Midwestern. The story is narrated by the youngest daughter and covers two time periods 1994-95 and 2011. It is an interesting perspective into small town values and how easily one judges your neighbors.
In both novels, envy plays an important role in its tragic themes. Both books are well written and carefully crafted. The Son is outstanding in its research into Texas history and Comanche life. The flow of the The Son jumps from narrator to narrator and time period to time period and presents somewhat of a jarring reading experience. Because of its style and graphic nature it seems to be marketed to the male reader. The graphic violence in The Son is hard to read while it pictures a realistic picture of the Texas frontier. Its length commands a substantial reading effort.
The Mourning Hours captured my attention from the opening pages to its conclusion. Set in contemporary times, it is easily readable and relatable. The Hammarstrom family could be anyone’s next door neighbors. The father, mother and their children are likable. Unlike the characters in The Son I could understand their actions and responses to events. The suffering and isolation that the family endured after the disappearance of Stacy Lemke was heartbreaking.
The Mourning Hours awakened an emotional response while The Son left a feeling of flatness in its final pages. With all its epic scope and historical breath I could not wait to leave the pages of The Son. When I finished The Mourning Hours I wanted to go back and revisit.
Ruling: Less is more, and in its simple narration The Mourning Hours is my choice for the next bracket in the Niles Tournament of Books.
Our two judges for Round One chose Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith and The Mourning Hours by Paula Treick DeBoard to pass forward to Round Two, leaving The Son by Philipp Meyer and Lowlands by Jhumpa Lahiri in the zombie pool. A zombie will be picked from the elimination pool after the first two rounds and resurrected to compete again in Round Three. Voting for Round Two of the Tournament of Books ends on Sunday, March 17.