Category: Book Blog Posts

Deceit by Jónína Leósdóttir

Deceit by Jónína Leósdóttir

I was pulled into Icelandic mystery “Deceit” the minute I saw the cover, which I discovered upon reading how cleverly it reflected the story.

“Deceit” by Jónína Leósdóttir is published by Corylus Books. She’s an Icelandic author and playwright who has written twenty books, fiction and non-fiction, many short stories and plays for radio and television. In 2016 Jónína ‘turned to crime’ with a five-book series about amateur sleuth Edda. “Deceit” was published in English in autumn 2022 and is translated into English by Sylvia Bates and Quentin Bates, a wonderful mystery author in his own right.

Jónína Leósdóttir

“Deceit’s” themes are the complexity and consequences of family dynamics. The protagonists are Reyjavik detective Soffia and Adam, her British-born psychologist ex-husband. He’s got a dark secret and an almost crippling fear of COVID. Soffia has a unique ability to get under Adam’s skin because of how well she knows him but needs his skills to help her solve the mystery. Since the story takes place during the pandemic, the investigative process is almost unbearable for Adam.

Adam ended the call without a word. Soffía hadn’t called to
ask if she could come, but to announce that she was coming.
There were good reasons why his parents referred to their
former daughter-in-law as the Bulldozer. This elaborately
courteous middle-class English couple had never taken to the
confident, straight-talking woman who had captivated their
only son.

Introduced as victims of malicious attacks, five siblings, (children of the same father but three different mothers), hold the keys to the mystery in their current relationships and unhappy childhoods . The story begins with Arngunnur Andersen, owner of a small health foods store in which Adam shops. Broken sewing needles have been found in fruit sold at the store. Gradually, similar malicious acts are committed and the links between the victims are revealed. Who holds a grudge against these five siblings and half-siblings strong enough to want to hurt them? Soffia wants evidence; Adam wants to understand why this family has been singled out in his belief that in the answer lies the identity of the perpetrator. I love this interchange between Adam and Soffia as they get to know the family better:

“If you were stuck in a lift with one of these siblings,” Soffía made quote marks with her fingers,
“who would you prefer to be stuck with?” “For how long?” Adam asked in return.
She popped some chocolate-covered liquorice in her mouth and thought about it.
“Two hours. And there’s no light in the elevator.”
“Probably Emil. He could tell me about Greece. Or maybe Arngunnur, I’m sure there’s a lot she could say.”
“Not Sesselja and her legs-up-to-here?”

Simultaneously, Adam becomes involved with another family; a father who needs his counsel on how to help his adopted daughter. She has just been diagnosed with a fatal disease and is bitterly determined to find and punish her biological father, who she holds responsible for her diagnosis. Leósdóttir skillfully weaves the two threads of these stories together while revealing the secrets that Adam and the family have long concealed.

Soffia is not a very likeable character, but we are seeing her through Adam’s eyes. She’s rude, abrupt and teases him mercilessly about his COVID fears. However, they both care deeply about their daughter, and as we learn more about Adam we begin to understand the dynamics of their relationship and the reason for their divorce.

This famous quote from the opening of “Anna Karenina” has become a cliché, but it aptly encapsulates the themes of this new mystery: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The solution to the mystery lies in the roots of both families and is both a satisfying and tragic ending. Another great addition to the Nordic mystery genre!

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Harm by Sólveig Pálsdóttir

Harm by Sólveig Pálsdóttir

It’s my pleasure to review another notable Icelandic mystery published by Corylus Books, “Harm” by Sólveig Pálsdóttir. (Here’s a link to my review of another book from Corylus, “The Commandments” by Óskar Guðmundsson.) Harm is Book 3 in Pálsdóttir’s Ice and Crime series, and I can highly recommend the first two installments, “The Fox” and “Silenced”.

All of Sólveig Pálsdóttir’s novels have been shortlisted for the Icelandic Crime Fiction Awards and have been praised for their narrative, attention to detail and sympathetic characters.

Sólveig Pálsdóttir

“Harm” has been deftly translated into English by Quentin Bates, who is also a wonderful author in his own right, of an Icelandic mystery series following Reykjavík detective Gunnhildur Gísladóttir.

Quentin Bates

Harm features Reykjavík detective Guðgeir Franssson and his colleagues. I really enjoy Guðgeir as a character; but then I always love a great curmudgeon! What seems to be a relatively simple case turns out to be deceptively complex, which has always been one of my favorite characteristics of Nordic Noir mysteries.

Harm is a compact book which is by no means a criticism. Pálsdóttir chooses each sentence carefully and her words speak volumes. Here’s an example from Chapter 1 (no spoilers, I promise).

It took the barman a painfully long time to deal with this simple request, and
Ríkharður decided that the guy had to be a little on the slow side.

Two important plot points are revealed in this sentence. First of all, Ríkharður is obviously not a very nice guy, and second…well, the sentence contains a hint, but I didn’t spot it until the second time around (I always read a book I’m reviewing first, and then skim it again to highlight content for the review). This is one of the aspects I found so captivating about the book; it offers subtle clues that only revealed themselves (at least to me) on the re-read.

Ríkharður is traveling with his much younger companion in a caravan, meeting her friends in the Westman Islands. He is uncomfortable with the group, due to the age difference and his insecurities about his relationship with Diljá. He arrives at the restaurant that night noticeably drunk, and things go downhill from there. The next morning, Diljá finds him dead in their bed. To say the least, she does not react calmly. Pálsdóttir’s depiction of Diljá, who is dealing with some mental health issues, is sympathetic and penetrating.

So, was Ríkharður murdered and if so, whodunnit? More than one person has a plausible motive. However, Pálsdóttir is so skillful that the solution, when revealed, is both surprising and makes perfect sense. This is a very satisfying book, and a great addition to the series.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Quentin Bates’ seamless translation…no, I don’t speak Icelandic but I’m learning some phrases for my trip there later this year. I mean that there is never any stiltedness or awkward phrasing in his translations and I always look forward to his work as an author and a translator.

To sum up, I greatly enjoyed “Harm” and I think you will too! Although it is not absolutely necessary, I prefer to read serial mysteries in order, to follow the development of the continuing main characters. Here is a guide to the Ice & Crime series in order of publication. Please buy or order “Harm” from your local independent bookstore! Check Indiebound or for audiobooks, Libro.fm.

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The Commandments by Óskar Guðmundsson

The Commandments by Óskar Guðmundsson

The Commandments by Óskar Guðmundsson
Translated by Quentin Bates | Published by Corylus Books

Picture

I’ve been a Nordic Noir fan since the early 1990s, when I read “Smilla’s Sense of Snow”, by Peter Høeg, and the Martin Beck mystery series by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. However, it wasn’t until the success of the Lisbeth Salander “Dragon Tattoo” trilogy by Stieg Larsson (2005) that mysteries from Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Finland began to be widely translated and published in the US. What draws me to the genre? I think it’s for the same reason I have such an unquenchable passion for polar history and exploration: Harsh surroundings and the knowledge that environment is as important as plot. Spare, beautiful prose. Words like forbidding, suspenseful, threatening, cold, bleak. Most of all, the character development that continues from book to book, as many of them are series.

So, every time I come across a new Nordic mystery I know I’ll be reading it. When Ewa Sherman reached out to ask if I would like to review Óskar Guðmundsson’s “The Commandments” I jumped at the chance and I was not disappointed; it is a welcome addition to the genre. Many of these books feature strong, intelligent and capable women and the protagonist Salka Steinsdóttir is no exception.


Author Óskar Guðmundsson

The book begins with a chapter set in 1995, and offers disturbing hints of what’s to come:

Once they had made plain their heathen tendencies, Helgi
had asked the pair of them to stay behind after the lesson.
That was when it had all started.
First sweets. Then money. Finally, there had been booze.
Everything changed.

The next chapter resumes in 2014. Salka Steinsdóttir is a former police officer who we meet fly fishing in the Lax River in northern Iceland. Her life is complicated; she is separated from her husband and her father is very ill. While on the river she meets an intriguing stranger who plays a part in what’s to come.

The story unfolds slowly but inexorably. Horrible abuse has taken place but who were the perpetrators and why have they gone unpunished for so long? When a body is found in a local church, the police reach out to Steinsdóttir for assistance. She is reluctant to be drawn back into her former world until they tell her that the man who was murdered was part of one of her investigations four years earlier.

That’s right. We investigated accusations against him
and other priests. We were never able to reach a conclusion.
That’s the worst of dealing with these cases. You have all the
victims’ narratives and you can put your finger on what’s
right and just. At the same time, you have the feeling that it’ll
all come to nothing, as happened with this case. The whole
thing was dismissed.’

And thus, Steinsdóttir finds herself in the throes of an intensely emotional and challenging case.

Guðmundsson writes about the horrific abuse in a sensitive and empathetic way. He thoughtfully creates the lives and of the victims and the damage they suffered as children that carried into their adult lives. Steinsdóttir has to confront reluctant witnesses, outright obstruction, and the difficulty of probing at memories the people she talks to would prefer to forget. I loved her character; here is a description of her during questioning of a witness:

During such interrogations, Salka liked to step back in
time, trying to work out how life had been for these people
before everything collapsed around them. At some point
this young woman had been the apple of her parents’ eye.
Somewhere behind the taut features hid a pleasant woman
with happy eyes. But now they were completely blank.

With each witness, each piece of evidence, and the gradual uncovering of the past, Steinsdóttir grows closer to a solution of the case…but not necessarily a resolution. Guðmundsson’s spare, unaffected prose is one of the main reasons I loved this book, and why Icelandic mysteries in particular call to me so strongly. The subject matter of the book is handled with a masterly touch and a deep understanding of how strongly evil deeds live long after they are committed. As with all great mystery books, the ending is both unexpected and yet, inevitable.

I highly recommend this book not just for Nordic mystery fans, but anyone who loves mysteries and great writing. I can’t wait to read more of Guðmundsson; more about him can be found at his website.

Please buy/order this book at your local independent bookstore! To find yours, visit Indiebound in the US or Indie Bookshops in the UK/Ireland.

The Commandments was first published in English in the United Kingdom in 2021 by Corylus Books Ltd, and was originally published in Icelandic as Boðorðin in 2019 by Bjartur.
Copyright © Óskar Guðmundsson, 2019
Translation copyright © Quentin Bates, 2021

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What Are You in the Mood For? Part Two

What Are You in the Mood For? Part Two

Like so many people, I’ve read a lot of books during the pandemic. Since I only post about books I liked/loved/lost it over, I decided to create a post that makes recommendations to match your current mood with the proper book. As always, please buy/order your books from an independent bookstore! Check for yours at:

If you want to read…


……about the often dangerous and always fascinating history of fashion, and the lengths people will go to in order to look beautiful.

Fashion Victims : The Dangers of Dress Past and Present—Alison Matthews David:

A philosophical novel that follows the paths of three men, in three different periods of history, (the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Black Death, and the Second World War) linked by the same book. Unlike anything I’ve read before.

The Dream of Scipio—Iain Pears (also An Instance of the Fingerpost):

…Gripping medical history; the real story behind the discovery and use of penicillin.

The Mold in Dr. Florey’s Coat—Eric Lax:

…two startling and somewhat interconnected novels by a master storyteller. Station Eleven is a novel that miraculously reads like equal parts page-turner and poem. The Glass Hotel is a ghost story that’s also about white collar crime and container shipping. I recommend reading in order.

Station 11/The Glass Hotel—Emily St. John Mandel:

...a great American novel about a real reform school that operated for 111 years and warped the lives of thousands of children. A Whitehead classic and Pulitzer Prize winner.

The Nickel Boys—Colson Whitehead

…Poetic fantasy fiction with stunning visual imagery and complex characters. If you liked The Night Circus…

The Starless Sea—Erin Morgenstern

…a brutal, bitter, comical, brilliant look at England through a broken mirror; NOT for the faint of heart.

Endland—Tim Etchells

…Nordic Noir from a Swedish author, with a twist that her protagonist is not a policeman, but a tax lawyer (a profession the author shares). Part of a series, click here to see them in order.

The Blood Spilt—Âsa Larsson


Thus endeth Part Two of the “What are You in the Mood For? posts. Hope you enjoyed, and found some books to match your mood!

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What Are You in the Mood For? Part One

What Are You in the Mood For? Part One

Like so many people, I’ve read a lot of books during the pandemic. Since I only post about books I liked/loved/lost it over, I decided to create a post that makes recommendations to match your current mood with the proper book.

As always, please buy/order your books from an independent bookstore! Check for yours at:

Indiebound
Indie Bookshops UK
Indie Bookshops Europe
Indie Bookshops Australia
Libro.fm (audiobooks)

If you want to read…


…an insighful, poignant “autobiographical” novel about the real-life Alva Vanderbilt; prominent multi-millionaire American socialite and a major figure in the American women’s suffrage movement.

A Well Behaved Woman—Therese Anne Fowler

Nordic noir at its finest (part of a series that I recommend reading in order as the characters and plots intertwine). This is the most recent book in the series.

Lazarus—Lars Kepler:

…a gripping four book series ostensibly about two Neapolitan girls who grow up together. The astonishing writing transcends the plot to cover love, violence, loyalty, marriage, parenthood, rebellion, politics, family… If I sound like I’m waxing lyrical, I am.

My Brilliant Friend Quartet—Elena Ferrante:

…a book of simple, beautiful prose (part of a series and with characters from other Backman books) that revolves around hockey but is really a rich, insightful study of the people who live in this small town.

Us Against You—Frederik Backman

...Marconi! A notorious murderer! The invention of the telegraph! Crime investigation innovations! Need I say more-it’s Erik Larson.

Thunderstruck—Erik Larson

…a work of historical fiction so gripping that it’s un-putdownable. A group of women on a very dangerous Arctic journey; fits right into that sweet spot of mystery, thriller and intense character study.

The Arctic Fury—Greer MacAllister

…one of Kate Atkinson’s clever Jackson Brodie mysteries; one should always be in the mood for these fantastic books!

Started Early, Took My Dog—Kate Atkinson

…Nordic noir from Iceland; Books 1 and 2 of the fantastic Forbidden Iceland series.

The Creak on the Stairs/Girls Who Lie—Eva Björg Ægisdottir

…brilliant historical fiction about Shakepeare’s son; so little is known about the lives of the father or the son that O’Farrell’s imagination really shines through.

Hamnet-Maggie O’Farrell

…a book that bears some similarities to The Orchid Thief, but with a very different focus and background; natural history and a daring heist.

The Feather Thief-Kirk Wallace Johnson

…a brutally honest and well-written account about running the Iditarod and the musher life in general. On Twitter, if you follow #mushertwitter or #uglydogs, this is the book for you!

Winterdance-Gary Paulsen

…a quintessential Amisosity, Amisless, Amisesque novel/bio/essay/WTF kind of a book.

Inside Story—Martin Amis


Thus endeth Part One of the “What are You in the Mood For? posts. Part Two will cover fantasy, fashion and more…

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Book Bits Oct. 14, 2020

Book Bits Oct. 14, 2020

Book news and events from across the bibliosphere!

A Cappella Books, Atlanta

Steve Madden, “The Cobbler: How I Disrupted an Industry, Fell from Grace, and Came Back Stronger Than Ever” in conversation with Holly Firfer, CNN Journalist . Click here for tickets; ticket options include a copy of the book.

Atlanta Writer’s Club

Weekly Contest: I’m a former winner of this contest, and what a great prize; the winner will receive a one-year extension to their membership! The deadline for this week’s contest is Friday, October 16th at noon Eastern, and the word to use in a submission of 50 words or less is “dream.” Atlanta Writers Club members are invited to send your submission with “Weekly Contest” in the subject line to Clay Ramsey, Officer Emeritus and VP of Contests, Awards, & Scholarships, at chramse@gmail.com. To join the AWC or renew your membership, please use the link here for online and mail-in options: https://atlantawritersclub.org/membership-donation/

For information about the upcoming virtual Atlanta Writer’s Conference, click here.

Lit Hub Weekly

From this week’s issue of LitHub: ““It’s not laziness, but criminal, to feign ignorance of the havoc we have wrought on the world.” Fatima Bhutto chronicles this world on fire. | Lit Hub Politics

“Prince always accepted what was coming, and was trying to prepare, he told me as far back as 1985.” Neal Karlen on his complicated relationship with an American icon. | Lit Hub Biography

“It seemed to be extremely unlikely that I would ever have this particular event to deal with in my life.” Louise Glück on winning the Nobel Prize in Literature. | The New York Times

Andri Snær Magnason: It will never be too late to mourn the slow loss of glaciers. | Words Without Borders

From Lit Hub’s Bookmarks Bulletin:

In literary land this week: American poet Louise Glück won the 2020 Nobel Prize for literature, Fox News is getting its own imprint at HarperCollins (?!), the staff of The New Yorker is celebrating a well-earned union victory, this year’s MacArthur fellows include six literary writers, and there’s a new Ethan Hawke novel on the horizon.

Here at Book Marks, we got some rapid-fire book recs from Douglas Stuart and Karen Russell, and talked books about the civilian experience of war with Phil Klay.

We hope you’re all keeping healthy and sane, and supporting your local independent bookstores in any way you can. Click on the image below to find your local independent bookstore in the US.

Featured Bookstores of the Week:

Jarndyce Books: Leading specialists in 18th and, particularly, 19th century English Literature & History. Our shop, opposite the British Museum, is open between 11 & 5.30. @JarndyceBooks on Twitter.

Coachouse Books: Coach House Books is an independent Canadian publisher of poetry, fiction, drama & nonfiction. Good on paper since 1965. @coachhousebooks on Twitter.

Drama Book Shop: 2011 Tony Honor for Excellence in Theatre. Since 1917, the greatest theatre and film bookshop in the world. Re-opening Spring 2020! @dramabookshop on Twitter.

Port Book and News Shop: Locally owned indie bookshop serving the Olympic Peninsula for over 35 years. Come for the books, stay for the community and conversation! Open 7 days/week. @portbookandnews on Twitter.

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The Blue Notebook of a Thousand Titles

The Blue Notebook of a Thousand Titles

In 1996, I began writing down the titles of books I was interested in reading. I bought a beautiful small notebook and began a practice I continued until very recently. I read about most of the books in the NYT Book Review, which I subscribed to for over 20 years. I eventually cancelled my subscription due to non-book related issues, and began tracking the books on my Mac. However, the notebook is a great time capsule of my long history as a bookworm (which preceded 1996 by a long shot!).

I started digitizing the notebook this weekend; here is the very first page:

The books crossed out are the ones I ending up buying. I had to carry this with me to bookstores because often, I would buy a book I already had. I’m sure I’m not the only one!

I really got going on page 2 forward as far as the percentage of books listed vs. books bought:

Just because I didn’t cross a book out doesn’t mean I decided not to buy it; as long as it’s in print or I can find it used, it’s always on the “to be read” list.

AN URGENT PLEA: Please buy or order any books that catch your eye at your local independent bookstore. For physical books from US indies, check Indiebound. For audiobooks, check libro.fm. In the UK and Ireland, check Booksellers Association.

Although my reading tastes are pretty eclectic, there are some genres and topics that always catch my eye:

  • British and Scandinavian/Nordic mysteries
  • Polar history and exploration, both Arctic and Antarctic
  • Travel, mountain climbing and other types of non-fiction adventure
  • Books about books, libraries, museums, booksellers, bookstores and bibliomaniacs
  • Popular science
  • Disasters such as shipwrecks, hurricanes, pandemics
  • History and historical fiction

There are also many authors whose books I will always buy because I already know how much I love their writing; in the interests of space I’ve only included a few, followed by their Twitter handles if they have an account:

  • Simon Winchester @simonwwriter
  • Oliver Sacks @OliverSacks (now the account of the Oliver Sacks Foundation)
  • Jennifer Egan @egangoonsquad
  • Hilary Mantel @hilarymantel (she does not tweet)
  • Steve Silberman @stevesilberman
  • Erik Larson @exlarson
  • Bill Bryson @billbrysonn
  • Bill Hayes @BillHayesNYC
  • Stephen King and his son, Joe Hill @stepheking and @joe_hill
  • Erin Morgenstern @erinmorgensterm
  • Sebastian Junger @sebastianjunger
  • Susan Orlean @susanorlean
  • Lisa See @lisa_see

I also have a large collection of Scandinavian/Nordic mysteries; I can recommend any book by any of these authors. Please note that most of these books are best read chronologically, since the characters and some personal details persist and grow from book to book.

  • Maj Sjöwall/Per Wahlöö
  • Henning Mankell
  • Yrsa Sigurðardóttir
  • Lene Kaaberbøl & Agnete Friis
  • Jo Nesbo
  • Karin Fossum
  • Håkan Nesser
  • Quentin Bates (also an excellent translator)
  • Lars Kepler
  • Niklas Natt Och Dag
  • Jussi Adler-Olsen
  • Arnaldur Indriðason
  • Kjell Eriksson
  • Kristina Ohlsson
  • Anne Holt
  • Ragnar Jónasson
  • Asa Larsson
  • Sofie Sarenbrant
  • Janwillem van de Vetering (cheating in the category here; he is Dutch and the books take place in Amsterdam.)

The following images go up to page 10 in my notebook so there will be several future posts about the rest. Do we share any book interests? If so, please let me know on Twitter at @angryalgonquin!

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Writing Contest Win!

Writing Contest Win!

I’m so grateful to the Atlanta Writers Club for selecting me as this week’s “Weekly Writing Contest” winner!

For our latest weekly writing contest, with “seashore” as the magic word, the judges selected AWC member Abbe Wiesenthal‘s submission, which was as follows:   

ATL Writer’s Club Newsletter, July 2020

I used to sell shells there
But twisted tongues and barren beaches
Swept away my customers
Like sandcastles in a high tide.
Who am I now,
The woman with the empty bucket,
Walking along the seashore,
Searching for slippery shrimp,
And saying it, three times, very fast.   

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