Conversations from the Cubicles: Off to a great start

Off the Shelf

Kris: This has been an amazing year for books.

Betty: What?! We’re only two weeks into 2018.

K: I know, and I stand by my statement.

B: Well, don’t just stand there; explain yourself.

K: In my ongoing quest to read all the books, I have been furiously turning pages on some amazing new releases. That’s how I came across “The Widows of Malabar Hill” by Sujata Massey.

B: Now you’re going to tell me you liked it so much you went to her author reading in St. Paul.

K: Ha! Yes! She was just as wonderful as her book, which centers on Perveen Mistry, a young woman who becomes the first female solicitor in Bombay. It’s 1920s India, and there are a lot of cultural and religious customs to follow. I loved learning that history, and then there was a murder.

B: Bonus … in a fictional kind of way.

K: Absolutely. I didn’t figure out the killer, but I did realize that I can’t wait for the next book in this series. Massey has plans for at least two more Perveen Mistry mysteries.

B: I read quite the murder mystery, too.

K: I thought you were reading science fiction?

B: Well, “Six Wakes” by Mur Lafferty takes place in space, but it reads like a locked-room mystery. Six clones wake up disoriented in anti-gravity … amid floating blood and bodies, the bodies being their previous incarnations.

K: I’m getting the sci-fi. Where’s the mystery?

B: Right there. Because they had been violently murdered, they didn’t have time to download recent memories, so it is on them to find the murderer and figure everything out while crewing their ship. They are a crew of six who are flying a spaceship to another planet, housing thousands of humans who are cryogenically frozen until they land. Their cloning unit has been destroyed, along with the attempts on their lives, so they have only one life left to solve this mystery and save the mission. Added to that, they are all criminals, having been promised immunity if they crew this ship, so each one of them has secrets to keep.

K: That does sound more like a mystery than science. Sometimes I have trouble with science fiction, and I just can’t get into it.

B: This is really accessible, not jargony or techie. Right from the first I was comfortable with the setting, and I knew I would rave about it even before I finished because the storytelling was so much fun. What amazing thing do you have next?

K: My other pick is “The Perfect Nanny” by Leila Slimani. Suffice it to say, this might be the most ironic title for a book this year.

B: I didn’t even consider reading it. I recommended “Two Girls Down” last week, about missing sisters. I am able to read books like that because all the way through I can maintain hope that there will be a happy ending.

K: I get that, and “The Perfect Nanny” is not one of those books. In the first chapter, we learn that the nanny has killed the children in her charge. The rest of this psychological drama unpacks the events that lead to this monstrous outcome. The nanny, Louise, hides her psychopathy well for a while, and by the time the parents begin to suspect all is not well, Louise is so deeply embedded in their lives that a quick extrication seems impossible. I set aside the other books I was reading to finish this because I wanted to know what would make someone commit such a crime. This story shook me.

B: So it was more about why than the mystery of who done it.

K: Exactly. Any other discoveries you want to share this week?

B: I do, but it’s hard to describe magic.

K: Yes, it is, and now I’m intrigued.

B: In “The City of Brass” by S. A. Chakraborty, it’s 18th century Cairo. Nahri lives by her wits on the streets, using her skills with healing and languages to get by. While working a con, she raises the attention of a demon. Now in dire trouble, she accidentally summons a mysterious djinn who whisks her away on a magic carpet in an effort to save her life. She believes none of it, even as the reader is pulled into a wonderfully realized world we’ve never been to before.

K: It’s a fantasy?

B: That’s the thing. I was enjoying this fantastical world, and then Chakraborty starts developing the tribes and long-standing resentments. Nahri’s arrival brings the threat of war, and it felt a little like the politics of “Game of Thrones.”

K: Ohhh! Subterfuge and scheming.

B: Exactly! Like you said before, I can’t wait for the next installment of this series.

K: This is a great year for books.

B: (mumbling) Mine were from 2017. Remember our last article, when I said I was right behind you?

K: You weren’t kidding (laughter).

B: I’m trying to catch up!