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Secret history

littlelifeOh, my. I can’t remember when I last read a book so immersive as A Little Life (Doubleday, digital galley), the kind that makes you oblivious to the world around you because the story becomes your reality.  Hanya Yanagihara’s beautifully written second novel is both tragic and triumphant in its depiction of friendship over time, the way in which the past impinges on the present. Unafraid of the dark, it can be as hard to read as it is to put down.

Four culturally diverse college roommates relocate to New York City after graduation to pursue their separate ambitions while still sustaining their bonds. J.B. is the Haitian-American artist who finds success painting portraits of his friends. Malcolm, the bi-racial son of wealthy professionals, searches for love and happiness as an architect. Willem, kind and compassionate since his boyhood on a Montana ranch, works as a waiter until his talents as an actor are recognized. Then there’s enigmatic Jude, who begins his brilliant ascent as an attorney, and who has never talked about his past nor the trauma that left him physically disabled. Willem, with whom he shares a shabby apartment, is both flattered and perplexed when he overhears Jude saying he tells Willem everything because it just isn’t true.

“In more generous, wondering moments, he imagined Jude as a magician whose sole trick was concealment, but every year, he got better and better at it, so now he only had to bring one wing of the silken cape he wore before his eyes and he would become instantly invisible, even to those who knew him best.”

Skilled at deflecting personal questions and setting boundaries, Jude eventually can’t hide all his secrets, the demons haunting him. He wears long sleeves — always — because he cuts himself, although those scars aren’t nearly as deep as the ones on his back, or the burn mark on his hand. Jude’s horrific childhood of physical and sexual abuse is gradually revealed in heart-wrenching bits and pieces, much in the way memory works. His doctor, Andy, knows some things, and his mentor, Harold, knows others. Willem, whose feelings for Jude intensify over time, witnesses his bouts of extreme pain, the nights when he forsakes bed for the solace of a razor blade. More and more, A Little Life is about Jude, and the love and loyalty he inspires among his friends who struggle to help him.

As a reviewer, I can tell you there are things wrong with this book. At 700-plus pages, it is overly long and sometimes repetitious. Female characters get short shrift; one of the four friends practically disappears from the narrative. On occasion, the perspective shifts abruptly, and time passes with little reference to outside events. I also can tell you, how as a reader, none of this mattered. I love this book.

Once upon a time

darkestOnce upon a time — actually, the last few months  — I’ve been leading a double life. By day, I’m reading literary fiction and crime novels, but by night I escape to the paranormal via YA novels. Oh, the adventures I have among ghosts and witches, heroes and villains, changelings and dreamwalkers.

High school student Hazel is also leading a double life in Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest (Little, Brown, library hardcover). Hazel wonders why she’s so tired in the mornings, unaware that her nighttime dreams  of being a warrior in the service of a fairy king are true. It’s part of a bargain she made to help her musically gifted brother Ben. Both Hazel and Ben are fascinated by the glass coffin in the forest near the town. Inside resides a sleeping fairy prince, a tourist attraction in a land where humans and fae warily co-exist. But then the coffin is destroyed, the prince disappears, and this already odd world falls out of kilter. As in her vampire novel, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Black excels at mixing the ordinary  (school, parents, teenage crushes) with the extraordinary (changelings, unicorns, curses). She transforms fairy tale tropes with modern, snarky charm.

nightbirdAlice Hoffman’s many adult novels are suffused with a lyrical magical realism, which also informs her new novel for younger readers, Nightbird (Random House, digital galley). In the small Massachusetts town of Sidwell, residents hold an annual pageant about the town’s long-ago witch. But 12-year-old Twig and her mother, a talented baker, never attend, continuing to lead an isolated life in an old house, where Twig’s older brother James hides inside. Only Twig knows that James comes out at night, unfurling the black wings he’s had since birth, the result of the Sidwell witch having cursed the male side of the family. Twig is afraid someone is going to discover James on one of his nighttime flights; already there are whispers of a shadowy, flying monster. When a new family moves in down the road, Twig makes a good friend and James falls in love, but all is complicated by strange graffiti in town, a mysterious boy, and a woods full of small, endangered owls. Hoffman’s light touch casts a memorable spell. In Sidwell, even the library and the apple trees appear enchanted.

shadowcabMaureen Johnson left fans hanging on the edge of a cliff two years ago with The Madness Underneath, the second book in her enthralling Shades of London series, when she apparently killed off a major character. But never fear; she’s not Veronica Roth, thank goodness (yes, I am still bitter about Allegiant). In The Shadow Cabinet (Penguin Young Readers, purchased e-book), American student Rory Devereaux and her secret London ghost-busting colleagues have the mad skills to save one of their own. Maybe. While team leader Stephen hovers between life and death, Rory and squad members Boo and Callum try to find Charlotte, a student apparently kidnapped by her crazed therapist Jane, who hopes to resurrect the two leaders of a 1970s cult. But that’s just part of a hair-raising plot that also includes the disappearance of 10 other girls, a mass murder and a conspiracy threatening London at large. Readers who like Ben Aaronovitch’s adult Rivers of London series will appreciate the similarities in tone as Johnson leavens the scary with the humorous. Super supernatural.

mimeSamantha Shannon kicked off a projected seven-book series in 2013 with The Bone Season, a wonder of intricate world-building and spirited adventure. I wouldn’t attempt reading the series’ second book, The Mime Order (Bloomsbury USA, digital galley), without reading the first, so detailed is this futuristic London ruled by the corporation Scion, peopled by a thriving underworld of outlawed clairvoyants, and threatened by the otherworldly race known as the Rephaim. Having escaped from the Oxford prison colony controlled by the Rephaim, dreamwalker Paige Mahoney is the most-wanted fugitive in London. She’s rebels against the quasi-protection of the manipulative mime-lord Jaxon, a Fagin-like figure, but really runs into trouble when she encounters the Warden, the enigmatic Rephaite who was both her captor and mentor in Oxford. Scion seeks both of them, and unless Paige can carry out a complex scheme to become a mime-queen, they’re doomed. Five more books? Really?

wallsaroundNova Ren Suma’s The Walls Around Us (Algonquin Young Readers, digital galley) stuns with its intertwining narratives of mean girls, ghost girls and aspiring  ballerinas. Amber is an inmate at a secure juvenile detention center, imprisoned for having killed her stepfather. Violet is a talented ballet dancer headed for Juilliard. Their stories unfold in alternating chapters, three years apart, but are linked by Ori, who becomes Amber’s cellmate after Violet testifies against her in the murder of two dancers on a hot summer night. Secrets abound, and the revelations are all the more disturbing for the lyricism of the writing. What really happened the night the prison doors opened as if by magic? Shiver.

 

Mystery passport

leonDonna Leon set her first book in the stellar Guido Brunetti series, Death at La Fenice, at Venice’s famed opera house, and she returns there in her 24th, Falling in Love (Grove Atlantic, digital galley). Returning, too, is soprano Flavia Petrelli, whose performance in Tosca leads to wild applause and a rain of roses. But it’s the extravagant bouquets of yellow roses left in her dressing room and at the doorway to her apartment that frighten her and concern Brunetti, who ties the mysterious stalker to two knife attacks in the city. Leon deftly explores the psychology and escalating obsession of the stalker, then ups the suspense at the penultimate performance of Tosca, with the violent emotions of the opera mirroring the climactic events backstage. One of Leon’s best, inseparable from the magic of the real Venice. Brava!

foundlingsThe Silence of the Lambs meets an episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent in Kate Rhodes’ suspenseful The Winter Foundlings (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley). After a missing girl’s body is left on the steps of London’s Foundling Museum, psychologist Alice Quentin, liaising with the police, meets with convicted child killer Louis Kinsella at Northwoods prison hospital. Three other girls are missing, and the kidnapper appears to be following in Kinsella’s footsteps — or following his orders. Is it a former pupil, or perhaps a member of the hospital staff? As the cunning Kinsella toys with Alice, time is running out to find the missing girls. Chapters told from one abducted girl’s perspective are interspersed with the main narrative, adding to the chilling atmosphere.

liarAn eccentric woman cries wolf in M.C. Beaton’s Death of a Liar (Grand Central, digital galley), the latest in her long-running and highly entertaining series featuring Scottish police sergeant Hamish Macbeth. After falsely claiming she was attacked, chronic liar Liz Bentley turns up dead in her Cromish vegetable patch, and Hamish suspects her murder is tied to the torture killings of a couple new to Lochdubh. But Chief Inspector Blair wants the Lochdubh murders for his own, so Hamish circumvents the official investigation, all the while dealing with his complicated love life. (He can’t believe a beautiful baker prefers the company of his rotund sidekick to his own). Still, the criminals command most of his attention  — and almost prove his undoing when he winds up in a coffin destined for burial at sea.

tombinturkeyFree-spirited Jude and worrywart Carole are longtime friends and amateur sleuths in the English village of Fetherings, but they’re on holiday in Simon Brett’s cheery The Tomb in Turkey (Severn House, digital galley). Intrigued by the offer of a free villa from Jude’s property developer pal and ex-lover Barney, the mismatched travel buddies find intrigue of a more menacing kind upon their arrival. Travel guide Nita glosses over the unwelcoming graffiti on the villa walls that suggests that Barney’s first wife died in suspicious circumstances. But then on a visit to the nearby Lycian tombs, Carole discovers Nita’s strangled corpse, which promptly disappears when she goes to get Jude. Still, Carole knows what she saw, and even Jude agrees that there’s something’s fishy in Turkey.

magpiesA book to die for. Or in this case, a manuscript. In Judith Flanders’  snappy A Murder of Magpies (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley), London book editor Samantha “Sam” Clair is looking forward to reading author Kit Lovell’s new expose. But others are also after the manuscript about a recent fashion house scandal. There are several break-ins, a courier is killed and Lovell goes missing. Sam teams with her solicitor mother and a police detective to investigate, even while she ponders how to tell her best-selling novelist her new book’s a bomb and deal with back-stabbing colleagues. Flanders takes a page from Lovell, and dishes the dirt on the insular world of publishing. First in a series, we hope.

kings“The past is a different country.” No kidding. William Shaw calls up the exotic land of the Swinging Sixties in The Kings of London (Little, Brown, digital galley), the second in a trilogy that began with the very good She’s Leaving Home. DS Paddy Breen and his younger colleague Helen Tozer encounter the counterculture of drug dealers and art dealers, hippies and squatters while investigating several nasty fires. One charred corpse is eventually identified as a politician’s wayward son. Heroin is the real villain here, along with the gangs controlling its trade and the dirty cops looking the other way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deep South

lovesickCrimes of the heart. Sins of the flesh. The four novellas collected in James Driggers’ evocative Lovesick (Kensington, review copy) are linked by the fictional  South Carolina town of Morris, located somewhere near Florence, an hour or so north of Myrtle Beach, and firmly in the territory of Southern Gothic. Sure, it’s the land of Faulkner, O’Conner and Crews, as well as a host of younger writers. Driggers is right at home.

“Butcher, the Baker,” set in the 1930s, features a black ex-con whose extraordinary baking talents have society ladies passing off his treats as their own. When war widow Virginia Yeager offers to give him credit for a cake, Butcher proposes they secretly partner to enter the Mystic White Flour baking contest in Atlanta. Wearing a big white hat and armed with Butcher’s recipe for Angel Biscuits, Virginia makes quite an impression on the racist company owner, but another competitor’s threat to expose her leads to blood and betrayal. “The Brambles,” set in the 1950s, puts a dark and unexpected spin on Arsenic and Old Lace as two middle-aged sisters marry for money and murder. “Sandra and the Snake Handlers” focuses on a recent widow whose obsession with a television evangelist has tragic consequences. Then there’s the contemporary tabloid tale, “M.R. Vale,” in which a gay florist confesses how he wound up in motel room with a dead body and a brutish mechanic. Driggers’ small-town South of secret scandals, stained-glass windows and judgmental neighbors proves both familiar and strange.

sewingTupelo Honey Lee, the appealing narrator of Darlyn Finch Kuhn’s first novel Sewing Holes (Twisted Road, review copy), is the first to admit she’s not as sweet as her name. Honey can’t help but say what she thinks, and her forthrightness can get her into trouble. But candor is a gift for a storyteller like Honey as she recounts her eventful coming-of-age in 1970s Jacksonville, where the South of bait shops and home-ec classes is giving way to suburbs and the wider world.

Honey’s heroines are Joan of Arc and Lois Lane as she copes with a troubled and troublesome family. Her chronically ill father and her unhappy mother are often at odds; her older brother becomes a war resister; her good-for-nothing uncle can’t support her young cousins, one of whom shares Honey’s room and her mother’s attention. As Honey’s growing-up years are marked by love and loss, faith and forgiveness, a bookish, burdened girl becomes a thoughtful, compassionate woman. You can picture her telling you these stories over a glass of sweet tea on the porch, stitching one memory to another.

sunshineThe nameless narrator of M.O. Walsh’s lush first novel, My Sunshine Away (Penguin, library hardcover) looks back to the pivotal summer of 1989 when he was a gawky 14-year-old enjoying a free-range childhood of bikes and backyards in sultry Baton Rouge. He secretly spies on neighbor Lindy Simpson, a pretty 15-year-old track star, and casts himself as the hero in her life instead of the dorky pal. Then Lindy is sexually assaulted, and her unknown assailant escapes into  the evening shadows. The narrator is one of several initial suspects and, as weeks go by with no arrest, he becomes determined to solve the crime and win Lindy’s heart. That his efforts go awry and cause pain to those he loves causes an aching regret that follows him into adulthood. A family tragedy also complicates his memories, and the wish to exorcise the ghosts results in a novel with the feel of a memoir.

“I imagine that many children in South Louisiana have stories similar to this one, and when they grow up, they move out into the world and tell them.”

Perhaps, but one doubts that those coming-of-age stories so effectively mix mystery and memory.

kimcrossKim Cross made me cry. Or rather her book did. What Stands in a Storm (Atria Books, digital galley) is subtitled “Three Days in the Worst Superstorm to Hit the South’s Tornado Alley,” but I read it in hours, gripped from the very beginning:

“3:44 p.m., Wednesday, April 27, 2011 — Smithville, Mississippi

Patti Parker watched the dark funnel grow until it filled the whole windshield, blackening the sky. Its two-hundred-mile-per-hour winds were furious enough to blast the bark off trees, suck the nails out of a two-by-four, and peel a road right off the earth, and it was charging at sixty miles per hour toward everything she loved most in the world — her children, her husband, their home. She was racing behind the massive storm, down the seven-mile stretch of rural highway between her and the life she knew.”

My tears came later, when after reading through part one, “The Storm,”  I found out what happened to everyone in parts two and three — “The Aftermath” and “The Recovery.” By everyone I mean the people huddled in basements and bathtubs, the seasoned meteorologists who saw the storms coming, the college students crouched in stairwells, the dispatcher who stayed at her post, the motel clerk with the friendly smile, the stormchasers trying to decide to turn left or right, the passengers in the cars and the drivers of the semis beneath the highway overpasses, the staff at the threatened hospitals, the firefighters with the flattened trucks. As Rick Bragg notes in his introduction, Cross puts the human face on the drama and makes the numbers real: the 358 tornadoes that ripped through 21 states in three days, seven hours, eighteen minutes; 348 people killed, $11 billion in damage.

Now an editor-at-large at Southern Living and a freelance writer based in Birmingham, Cross is a superb reporter who cloaks the tick-tock frame with a specificity of detail and imagery. The ugly greenish sky is “the color of fear,” a family collapses in a huddle of “elbows and tears.” Trucks cartwheel through whipping debris and crumple like soda cans. “At the Wrangler plant, a flock of blue jeans launched into flight, flapping like denim birds.”

The response and reaction is heart-wrenching and heart-warming. Phones ring in the terrible silence. Neighbors help neighbors and strangers. Volunteers serve plate after plate of soul food. A wedding goes on without the maid of honor. A memory quilt is found because of a Facebook posting. A father with “kind, sad” eyes sits for five days next to the slab of the apartment building that buried his college student son. A trained black German shepherd named Cinco and a honey-colored retriever mix named Chance help find the body. People from all over send clothes, supplies, cash. “Japan sent Alabama eight thousand blankets, a thank-you gift for all the help Americans had sent in the wake of the March tsunami.”

These days it seems that natural disasters strike all too frequently: an earthquake in Mexico, a tsunami in Japan, a hurricane in the South Pacific, forest fires and mudslides and tornadoes. It’s possible that you might not be able to separate the Tuscaloosa tornado from the storm that struck Joplin, Missouri, in May of that year, or the one that hit Moore, Oklahoma, in May 2013. There’s a forthcoming book by Holly Bailey about the Moore tornado, The Mercy of the Sky. I’m going to read that one, too.

Tornadoes scare me because they are so random and indiscriminate. What Stands in a Storm brings that home with a terrible immediacy. I was going to back into this post, begin with the years I spent in Kansas and tell you how funnel clouds still haunt my dreams. I was going to tell you about how I can look at a cloud bank like a bruise on the horizon and predict the sirens going off, about hunkering down and hoping and praying. But my experiences are puny compared to those I read about in What Stands in a Storm. What a powerful and poignant book. You might cry, too.         Continue Reading »

Spring mix

dorothyYou just can’t keep a good ghost down, especially when she’s as smart and tart-tongued as Dorothy Parker. Ellen Meister resurrected the literary legend as a not-always-blithe spirit in 2013’s Farewell, Dorothy Parker and brings her back in a nifty follow-up Dorothy Parker Slept Here (Penguin/Putnam, digital galley). Mrs. Parker is still haunting the halls of the Algonquin Hotel, but she admits to being lonely since all her famous pals have elected to move on to the afterlife. She sets her sights on Ted Shriver, a famous writer brought down by a plagiarism scandal, who has holed up in the hotel with a brain tumor. If Mrs. Parker can get him to sign the magical guest book before he checks out, she’ll have a new drinking buddy. But bitter, irascible Shriver will have nothing to do with her or young TV producer Norah Wolfe, who desperately wants to interview him, unless, perhaps, they can help him with a few things. Shenanigans ensue in this appropriately witty and surprisingly sweet tale.

carefreeYou binge watch Girls on HBO and then you feel sort of sad. Yes, you laughed, but you also cringed at the awkward hook-ups, the intense friendships, the dramatic highs, the despairing lows. Being a veteran of Sex and the City, you also know that grown-up girls also have emotionally messy lives. The women in Katherine Heiney’s bouyant collection of short stories, Single, Carefree, Mellow (Knopf, digital galley) are more likely to be married, anxious and faithless, but they’re a fun, frank bunch. Here’s wife and mother Nina in “Blue Heron Bridge,” caught up in an affair: “Oh, it was horrible to have a teenager’s emotions and a forty year old’s body. It was humliating. It was depressing. It was degrading. It made her feel alive to the very tips of her toes.” Myra, who appears in several stories, juggles her married French boss with her longtime boyfriend and his family. Friends support one another through boyfriend crises in “The Dive Bar” and “Thoughts of a Bridesmaid.” In “Cranberry Relish,” a woman tries to sort out failed expectations. “Josie thinks that the problem with being a writer is that you miss a lot of your life wondering if the things that happen to you are good enough to use in a story, and most of the time they’re not and you have to make shit up anyway.”

actofgodJill Ciment’s Act of God: A Novel (Knopf Doubleday, digital galley) is a stylish mix of comedy and tragedy that reminds me of a the old saying “for want of a nail, the shoe was lost, etc., etc.” From the moment that 64-year-old identical twins Kat and Edith find the eerily glowing mushroom in their late mother’s Brooklyn townhouse, their lives, and those of their neighbors, quickly unravel. What turns out to be a peculiar toxic mold spawns one disaster after another, the contagion unwittingly spread by the twins, their actress landlady — who ignored Edith’s calls — and a runaway Russian au pair who was hiding in an upstairs closet. Soon, there are haz-mat units, condemned buildings, and community shelters for those who have nowhere else to go. It’s like one of those cheesy ’50 flicks where giant ants come out of the woodwork or maybe an episode of Dr. Who, but it’s also a scenario familiar from the wake of natural disasters like Superstorm Sandy and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Ciment has a light touch, but the cumulative effect of her pop-culture satire is poignant and provocative.

mischiefStart your summer reading early with Susan Mallery’s The Girls of Mischief Bay (Mira, digital galley), although her three friends are hardly girls. Nicole is the youngest at 30, owns a Pilates studio in a seaside California town and is married to a wanna-be screenwriter. Almost 40, Shannon has a successful career in finance but a poor record with men and relationships. Recently turned 50, Pam is happily married but wonders if Botox might keep her more youthful. When life becomes an obstacle race for each of the three, they turn to one another for help over the hurdles. Nicole feels her husband has lost interest in her and their 5-year-old son. Shannon’s new guy comes with emotional baggage and shared custody of two kids. Pam’s life is upended by a tragedy out of the blue. The novel, the first in a new series, has more in common with the domestic drama of Mallery’s Blackberry Island trilogy than her Fool’s Gold series of romances but should satisfy readers of both with its credible characters coping with life’s changes.

Spies and lies

berlinJoseph Kanon is one of my favorite writers of historical espionage, right up there with Alan Furst in evoking the spy’s world of shadows, way more than fifty shades of gray. Last year’s Istanbul Passage was a layered tale of the crossroads of East and West in 1945. Now, in Leaving Berlin (Atria, digital galley), Kanon’s back in divided post-war Germany in the rubble-strewn Soviet sector during the blockade of 1948-49.

Alex Meier is a Berlin native and novelist who escaped the city for California before the war. Standing up to the McCarthyites earns him a job with the CIA in lieu of deportation or prison. If he’ll spy on his fellow cultural emigres in East Germany, he can return to the States and the young son living with his ex-wife. Alex isn’t too happy with the arrangement, especially when he finds out his old flame is the consort of his main target, a Russian major. His life becomes infinitely more complicated when her brother escapes from a POW labor camp and needs to get medical help in the West, and when the East German police insist he become an informer. His loyalties will be tested more than once; betrayal lurks in every dark corner. There’s a shoot-out early on, then a murder and a cover-up, but the story’s less concerned with action than with discerning the traitors on all sides. The characters, with their varying backstories, are believable, even if Alex can’t believe what they say.

knivesOlen Steinhauer signals what he’s up to at the very beginning of his clever All the Old Knives (St. Martins/Minotaur Books, paperback ARC) when CIA agent Henry Pelham discusses the state of contemporary spy fiction with a fellow airline passenger. She’s reading an old Len Deighton. “They just don’t make stories like this anymore. … You knew who the bad guys were back then.”

Actually, they do still write traditional spy novels — see Joseph Kanon, above — and Steinhauer’s new book isn’t as different as one might suppose, despite its up-to-the-minute terrorist-flavored plot and its unconventional framework. Almost all of it takes place over dinner at a quiet restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif., where Henry is meeting former lover and agent Celia Favreau for the first time in five years. Both were stationed in Vienna during the catastrophic takeover of a passenger plane by a radical Islamic group. Celia left within months after the debacle to marry an older man and start a family. Ostensibly, Henry just happens to be in her neck of the woods and Celia is catching him up on her two small children, but much more is revealed in their conversation and in flashbacks. Henry’s involved in an inquiry about the hijacking — there’s lingering suspicion that a mole tipped off the terrorists — and he wants Celia’s version of events. Of course, it’s all in the official report. Or is it?

Halfway through the book, Steinhauer switches perspectives from Henry to Celia, and while her memories overlap his, they also differ on crucial points. So, who are you going to believe? Both are well-trained liars and unreliable witnesses. The narrative switches back and forth as dinner progresses. Wine flows. Delicious food consumed. The veal hardly needs a knife, but the talk becomes more pointed. In the end, a good spy tales turns on deceit and betrayal. All the Old Knives is very good indeed.

dreamingspiesLaurie R. King’s novels mix atmosphere, history and intrigue, whether she’s writing suspense novels like 2013’s The Bones of Paris or one of her entries in the Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes series, say, 2012’s Garment of Shadows, which started out in in 1920s Morocco. Her latest, Dreaming Spies (Bantam/Random House, digital galley) finds Mary and Sherlock on a steamer bound for 1924 Japan, where they disguise themselves as Buddhist pilgrims as part of a secret mission to help the royal family. It all stems from a meeting aboard ship with a young Japanese woman, who turns out to be economist, acrobat and real-life ninja, and an English lord who turns out to be a blackmailer. The leisurely narrative, stuffed with all sorts of fascinating cultural asides, is occasionally punctuated by action scenes, but it’s Mary and Sherlock’s wits that make the story so entertaining. Their Japan adventure is only partially resolved, however, and there’s more mystery a year later when their Japanese friends and foes come calling in Mary’s beloved Oxford with its “dreaming spires.”

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