Archive for the ‘Fiction Review’ Category

Review of A Dance with Fate, by Juliet Marillier

Wednesday, September 16th, 2020

A Dance with Fate

by Juliet Marillier

ACE (Penguin Random House), 2020. 491 pages.
Review written September 16, 2020, from my own copy, preordered from amazon.com
Starred Review

A Dance with Fate is a wonderful sequel to The Harp of Kings, though each holds a self-contained story and it’s not important to remember what happened in the first book, though reading this one will give away a couple things that happened in the first book, so I do recommend reading them in order.

I rave about Juliet Marillier’s books every time, and this one did not disappoint me. She has the ability to pull you into her characters’ hearts and deeply care about their predicaments. There’s always an element of the Otherworld in her books, and there’s always some romance, but they don’t follow a formula or a set pattern at all.

In this book, Liobhan and Dau are ready to prove they are Swan Island warriors and deserve a permanent place on the island. But in an exhibition battle, Dau trips and hits his head. Before they’re sure he will survive, his family is contacted, even though Dau wanted nothing to do with them because of the cruelty he faced there from his older brother.

Dau does survive, but he is blind and an invalid, so he must go back to his father’s holding. His family doesn’t accept the verdict that the injury was accidental and demand that Liobhan serve on the holding as a lowly bondservant.

As feared, they both get pulled into the dark secrets Dau’s brother is keeping. He has not become any less cruel over the years. And meanwhile, Liobhan’s brother Brocc is in the Otherworld, trying to keep the folk safe and having to make a terrible bargain along the way. We guess there will be some overlap in the two stories, since Liobhan, Dau, and Brocc alternate as the viewpoint characters.

Liobhan is the daughter of Blackthorn and Grim, from the trilogy that told about them. And Swan Island was established in a series before that. But that all adds to the richness and isn’t necessary reading ahead of time. If you haven’t read Juliet Marillier before, you can jump right in. If you have, you will be delighted to find a new installment. There were a few threads left hanging, so I happily anticipate that this will end up being a trilogy as well. Her trilogies are the kind I love most – each book in the trilogy has its own complete story, but they all weave together. I think before long I’m going to need to do a grand rereading of her books. (And there are still a few older ones I haven’t read.)

Do you get the idea? If you love fantasy at all, or specifically Celtic fantasy with romance, you will love these books.

julietmarillier.com
penguinrandomhouse.com

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Source: This review is based on my own copy, preordered from amazon.com

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Monday, August 17th, 2020

The Water Dancer

by Ta-Nehisi Coates
read by John Morton

Random House Audio, 2019. 14 hours, 14 minutes.
Review written August 10, 2020, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

With regular library audiobooks, I confess, if it’s due and I have almost finished listening, sometimes I do renew to get a little more time. But I listened to this book on eaudiobook. I knew there were several holds. So I ended up staying up until 3 am to finish listening.

The story is mesmerizing, and John Morton’s wonderful deep voice brings it to life. It’s the story of Hiram, one of the “tasked” on a Virginia plantation before the Civil War. His father is the plantation owner, but his mother got sold further south when he was very young. But he’s found favor with his father and has been made the personal servant of his half-brother.

As the book opens, something strange happens involving a blue light and a river and the road they are taking disappearing. Hiram’s white brother drowns, which changes things for Hiram. Listeners learn about his life growing up on the plantation, the struggles the “quality” are having as tobacco uses up the Virginia soil, and Hiram’s growing desire for freedom.

Eventually, it becomes apparent that Hiram has some otherworldly powers, but doesn’t know how to harness them. He becomes involved in the underground, and even meets Harriet Tubman, who can powerfully wield “conduction” herself.

I was tempted to speed up the audio as I finished so I wouldn’t have to stay up until 3 am after all, but the narrator’s deep, rich voice has a meditative quality to it, and speeding it up ruined the peace I felt from listening to it. And it was totally worth the lack of sleep.

This is a powerful story which looks at history from a new angle.

ta-nahesicoates.com

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Source: This review is based on an eaudiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Night Watchman, by Louise Erdrich

Monday, June 22nd, 2020

The Night Watchman

by Louise Erdrich

HarperCollins, 2020. 451 pages.
Review written June 22, 2020, from a library book

Set in 1953, The Night Watchman tells about people of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota and how they stood up to the federal government of the United States threatening to take their lands. Here’s what the author wrote in a piece at the front of the book:

On August 1, 1953, the United States Congress announced House Concurrent Resolution 108, a bill to abrogate nation-to-nation treaties, which had been made with American Indian Nations for “as long as the grass grows and the rivers flow.” The announcement called for the eventual termination of all tribes, and the immediate termination of five tribes, including the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.

My grandfather Patrick Gourneau fought against termination as tribal chairman while working as a night watchman. He hardly slept, like my character Thomas Wazhashk. This book is fiction, but all the same, I have tried to be faithful to my grandfather’s extraordinary life. Any failures are my own. Other than Thomas, and the Turtle Mountain Jewel Bearing Plant, the only other major character who resembles anyone alive or dead is Senator Arthur V. Watkins, relentless pursuer of Native dispossession and the man who interrogated my grandfather.

Pixie, or – excuse me – Patrice, is completely fictional.

The story is about Patrice, who works in the Jewel Bearing Plant. But she needs to take some time off to try to find her sister, who has gone missing in the big city and is in trouble. Meanwhile, more than one man would like to win Patrice’s attention, and Thomas is disturbed by a letter that came from Washington, DC. Eventually, he needs to put together a delegation to make their case before Congress. Various colorful characters will help him out.

I read this book and finished very happy that these people successfully stopped their nation from being terminated. However, historical notes at the back, telling which parts came from truth, made my heart sink with this paragraph:

In all, 113 tribal nations suffered the disaster of termination; 1.4 million acres of tribal land was lost. Wealth flowed to private corporations, while many people in terminated tribes died early, in poverty. Not one tribe profited. By the end, 78 tribal nations, including the Menominee, led by Ada Deer, regained federal recognition; 10 gained state but not federal recognition; 31 tribes are landless; 24 are considered extinct.

But the book itself tells a good story, all the more poignant because it’s based in truth. A story of people up against the powerful, but also living and loving and making lives together. It is comforting that these people indeed triumphed in their struggle.

harpercollins.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Kiss Carlo, by Adriana Trigiani

Thursday, June 11th, 2020

Kiss Carlo

by Adriana Trigiani
read by Edoardo Ballerini

HarperAudio, 2018. 16 hours, 2 minutes.
Review written June 3, 2020, from a library eaudiobook

I listened to Kiss Carlo as a Skip-the-Line loan for an eaudiobook during the Covid-19 pandemic, when I’m listening to audiobooks on my phone (instead of CDs in the car) for the first time in my life. So I didn’t have to wait for an available copy, but I had to finish in 14 days, and my status as a library employee wouldn’t help me fudge that. This meant a little extra time doing puzzles!

The book is a historical novel about a big Italian family in South Philadelphia shortly after World War II. Nicky Castone has been engaged to his girl Peachy for seven years. She even waited for him during the war. He drives a cab for his family’s taxicab company, which is in a feud with another branch of the family and their taxicab company. Nicky is an orphan, but his aunt and uncle love him as their own. He’s also looked after by Hortense Mooney, the black dispatcher at the cab company. She tells Nicky that Peachy isn’t right for him.

Another plot thread deals with Calla Berelli, who is taking over her father’s theater, which runs Shakespeare plays year round. The theater is struggling, and the rise of television isn’t helping. Nicky’s been doing odd jobs at the theater for a long time, wherever he’s needed, and one night – which happens to be the night he finally told Peachy he was working at the theater – an emergency calls an actor away, and Nicky, who’d been prompting and knew all the lines, had to take the part.

In that moment, Nicky begins to realize that acting makes him feel alive. His fiancée is not at all pleased, which eventually tips Nicky off that maybe they aren’t right for each other after all.

But the path Nicky travels takes many twists and turns from there, including impersonating Carlo, an ambassador from Italy scheduled to be an officiating dignitary at a jubilee celebration in a small town in Pennsylvania. Nicky does it to escape Peachy’s angry father, and Hortense accompanies him as an American government official to lend him credence.

Okay, after that paragraph – let me give up trying to explain the plot. But it’s all in good fun. Some of the turns the plot takes are maybe a little unlikely, but the story is enjoyable. The big strength is in portraying the close-knit Italian-American community and the various characters along the way.

The narrator did a great job voicing the characters, expressing their characters with enough consistency that I could tell who was speaking by the voice used, and with a nice use of accents.

This was a light-hearted listen that still pulled you into the world of the book.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George, read by Steve West

Tuesday, May 19th, 2020

The Little Paris Bookshop

by Nina George
read by Steve West
and Emma Bering, with Cassandra Campbell

Random House Audio, 2015. 10 hours and 55 minutes.
Review written May 19, 2020, based on a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

This audiobook is amazing! It’s the first eaudiobook I’ve ever listened to. Since I’m not driving in my car much while teleworking during the Covid-19 crisis with the library closed, and don’t have much occasion to listen to CDs, and since library customers will be accessing ebooks more than ever, so I should know how it’s done – I decided to install the Libby app on my phone and check out an eaudiobook.

I chose the book by doing a search for my favorite narrator, Steve West. And this ended up being a wonderful choice! Yes, his dreamy voice was perfect for this book. He did French accents throughout, while narrating in his wonderful British accent. At the start of the book, the main character will not say or even think the name of his ex-lover, and Steve West did a perfect sigh to indicate the missing name. When he did start saying the name, all the love in his voice was palpable.

But let me talk about the story. The book features Jean Perdu, a bookseller in Paris whose shop is a barge on the River Seine. He calls himself a literary apothecary, because he has an almost magical ability to see into someone’s soul and know the book that will be just right for them. He’s working on an Encyclopedia of Small Emotions — all the little feelings that come over you in different situations.

But his own emotions are kept strictly walled up. As the book opens Perdu’s landlady asks him to give a table to the distraught woman who has recently moved into their building, after being left by her famous husband. Perdu does have a table to give her – but it is in a room he has hidden behind a bookcase and not entered for 21 years.

When the door is opened, some old emotions come flooding back into Perdu’s life. Then as his defenses crack, the new neighbor, Katharine, finds an unopened letter when she’s looking for a corkscrew in a painted-over drawer in Jean’s kitchen. When he finally reads the 21-year-old letter, everything he thought about why his former lover left him turns out to be wrong.

That’s all at the beginning of the book. Jean Perdu ends up on not a road trip but a river trip. He unmoors his book barge and sets off to the south of France, the home of his lost love. Along the way, he gains as travel companions a wildly successful and eccentric young debut novelist with writer’s block and an Italian chef looking for his own lost love.

Along the way, Perdu explores his memories, memories he’d tried to hide from. And he writes letters to Katharine, who poked cracks into his walls. And the travel companions have adventures that bond them to each other.

The book is a wonderfully warm story, never traveling expected paths, but so full of heart, and so full of thoughts about love and about life itself. All read with the amazing rich voice of an outstanding audiobook narrator, this story has resonance that will leave you thinking about it long after the sound has been turned off.

nina-george.com

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Source: This review is based on a library eaudiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Queen of Sorrow, by Sarah Beth Durst

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020

The Queen of Sorrow

Book Three of the Queens of Renthia

by Sarah Beth Durst

Harper Voyager, 2018. 419 pages.
Review written May 6, 2020, from my own copy, purchased via amazon.com

The Queen of Sorrow is the third book in the Queens of Renthia trilogy, which unfortunately came out when I was in the middle of reading for the Newbery. Since this is not a children’s book, I couldn’t justify giving it my time then. I happily finally got to it this past week and enjoyed getting pulled back into that world.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the title, that this book does not start out happily. Just when they think they can settle down and try to live in peace and prosperity after the events of Book Two, The Reluctant Queen, one of the queens has her children kidnapped. She’s not exactly calm and measured in her desire to get them back, and the reader does find out there’s a bigger plot involved.

Without giving anything away, I felt like the resolution of that big plot was a little anticlimactic. However, the book itself is an absorbing read, with many plotlines going on and our beloved characters facing multiple dangers and difficult decisions. (There! Is that vague enough to not give anything away from the earlier books?) And I did like the way things ended up for each set of characters.

You do want to read these books in order. And even though I wasn’t crazy about that one element of the ending – I immensely enjoyed the journey getting there.

The big strength of the Queens of Renthia series is the world-building. We’ve got a world where spirits of nature create and destroy – but must be controlled by powerful queens. And if the queen’s power slips, the spirits will attack the humans, whom they hate. In this book, we gain some more insights into the spirits and their motivation and how this whole thing works, as well as more insight into the queens we have met along the way.

This is an imaginative and creative fantasy trilogy for adults. Since I took so long to finish reading it, there is already a stand-alone novel out about a queen from one of the neighboring countries in Renthia, so I will get to enjoy more of this world.

sarahbethdurst.com
harpercollins.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett

Tuesday, March 31st, 2020

The Dutch House

by Ann Patchett

HarperCollins, 2019. 337 pages.
Review written March 29, 2020, from an advance reader copy signed by the author
Starred Review

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book at the Public Library Association Member Welcome Breakfast at which I received the 2019 Allie Beth Martin Award. Ann Patchett spoke at the breakfast, and she did talk about the book. She said it was the book about one of her deepest fears – becoming a horrible stepmother. After her talk, she signed the advance reader copy to me, including “Congratulations!”

It took me almost a year to actually get around to reading the book. Not because I didn’t want to! Ann Patchett’s writing is amazing! Mainly it was because I owned a copy, so it wasn’t a library book and didn’t have a due date. I was trying to read all of L. M. Montgomery’s books last year, too.

But when I did read it – as always I was amazed by Ann Patchett’s writing ability. Yes, there is a terrible stepmother in this book. A lot of the book focuses on the Dutch House – a mansion on the outskirts of Philadelphia where the narrator and his sister grew up. Their father had bought it, with all its contents, after the VanHoebeeks had all died and it was sold off.

The VanHoebeeks weren’t the story, but in a sense the house was the story, and it was their house. They had made their fortune in the wholesale distribution of cigarettes, a lucky business Mr. VanHoebeek had entered into just before the start of the First World War. Cigarettes were given to soldiers in the field for purposes of morale, and the habit followed them home to celebrate a decade of prosperity. The VanHoebeeks, richer by the hour, commissioned a house to be built on what was then farmland outside of Philadelphia.

The stunning success of the house could be attributed to the architect, though by the time I thought to go looking I could find no other extant examples of his work. It could be that one or both of those dour VanHoebeeks had been some sort of aesthetic visionary, or that the property inspired a marvel beyond what any of them had imagined, or that America after the First World War was teeming with craftsmen who worked to standards long since abandoned. Whatever the explanation, the house they wound up with – the house we later wound up with – was a singular confluence of talent and luck. I can’t explain how a house that was three stories high could seem like just the right amount of space, but it did. Or maybe it would be better to say that it was too much of a house for anyone, an immense and ridiculous waste, but that we never wanted it to be different. The Dutch House, as it came to be known in Elkins Park and Jenkintown and Glenside and all the way to Philadelphia, referred not to the house’s architecture but to its inhabitants. The Dutch House was the place where those Dutch people with the unpronounceable name lived. Seen from certain vantage points of distance, it appeared to float several inches above the hill it sat on. The panes of glass that surrounded the glass front doors were as big as storefront windows and held in place by wrought-iron vines. The windows both took in the sun and reflected it back across the wide lawn. Maybe it was neoclassical, though with a simplicity in the lines that came closer to Mediterranean or French, and while it was not Dutch, the blue delft mantels in the drawing room, library, and master bedroom were said to have been pried out of a castle in Utrecht and sold to the VanHoebeeks to pay a prince’s gambling debts. The house, complete with mantels, had been finished in 1922.

This book is the story of the life of Danny Conroy – but perhaps more ends up being the story of the life of his older sister Maeve. And even though they get thrown out of the Dutch House by their stepmother after the death of their father, the Dutch House pervades their lives.

This is a story about a family, and a story about complicated relationships. This is no typical family at all, but somehow the emotions and relationships ring true. The people seem all the more real because, not in spite of, the fact that people with this particular life story surely never existed.

This is a book for people who like character-driven novels. There’s not a lot of dramatic action, and the story covers decades – but we get to know who these people are. There’s a mother who left her family to serve the poor, a father absorbed with work, a stepmother obsessed with getting the house, a little brother who does what he’s told, a big sister who misses her mother and hates her stepmother, and a dutiful wife who doesn’t realize what she’s getting into. Through all of it, the Dutch House represents all that Danny and Maeve lost.

In her talk, Ann Patchett said that when she told Kate DiCamillo what the book was about, Kate gave her the ending. I highly approve, for I especially loved the ending.

I finished the book happy for the time I’d spent with these people.

annpatchett.com
harpercollins.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood

Tuesday, March 17th, 2020

The Testaments

by Margaret Atwood

Nan A. Talese, Doubleday, 2019. 419 pages.
Review written February 26, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2019 Booker Prize Winner

The Testaments is a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, which I’ve actually never read. (Though I remember it was a Book of the Month Club selection long ago when I was a member. At the time, I didn’t like books where religious people were the villains.) I have watched the TV series, though, on library DVDs. Normally, I wouldn’t let that substitute for reading a book, but while the series was riveting, it’s an extremely unpleasant story, and I didn’t actually want to absorb myself in it again. I did have enough information to completely understand what was going on in this sequel. This book will be more enjoyable if you’ve read the original book or watched the series, though.

This book is told from three perspectives, all three writing about what happened in the past (which is why it’s called The Testaments). One perspective is that of Aunt Lydia, an important person in the administration of Gilead, in charge of women’s matters. Along the way, we learn about Aunt Lydia’s background and how she came to power.

The other two perspectives are the daughters of Jude, the Handmaid who tells the story in the first book. (They don’t tell you that right away, but it’s not difficult to figure out.) One of them was smuggled out of Gilead as a baby. She only finds out about her background when the couple she thought were her parents were killed by a bomb. The other was the little girl taken from Jude when she was first captured while fleeing Gilead. She, too, must learn that those she thinks are her parents are not really her parents. In fact, when her “mother” dies and her “father” takes a new wife, the stepmother wants her out of the house, so plans to marry her off at thirteen.

I do have some arguments with the idea that Gilead would have gotten enough people behind it to pull off a new country and a new repressive government. But that’s simply the assumption here. In this book, the girls grow to be young adults, and the reader learns both what it’s like to grow up in Gilead and what happened to the characters after The Handmaid’s Tale.

Margaret Atwood’s prose is riveting. I began reading this book on a sick day. I did two things that day – slept and read. And I didn’t go to sleep for the night until I’d finished the book. Even with three perspectives, the plot doesn’t lag at any point. Highly recommended.

margaretatwood.ca
nanatalese.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens

Tuesday, February 18th, 2020

Where the Crawdads Sing

by Delia Owens

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018. 370 pages.
Starred Review
Review written January 27, 2020, from a library book

Where the Crawdads Sing came out in 2018, when I was busy reading for the Newbery committee and didn’t have any time for adult books. But the book is still tremendously popular and always on hold, so I decided to get on the list for it and see what all the fuss was about.

I was not disappointed. This is a book with a mystery and a dramatic courtroom scene. But it is mostly a poignant story of a girl who’s been abandoned over and over again, has had to figure out life on her own, but who lives a beautiful life understanding the natural world and all its wonders.

The Prologue of the book tells us about a dead body in a swamp in 1969. Then the main body of the book opens in 1952 when Kya is six years old and her mother walks away from their shack in the marsh and never comes back. One by one, her older sisters and brothers leave as well. She gets a few years with Pa before he starts drinking again and one day never returns. So Kya has to figure out how to survive in the marsh from ten years old.

She’s a resourceful little girl. And she knows the marsh like nobody else. She knows how to hide from people like truant officers – after trying exactly one day of school in the town. She figures out how to cook and how to get food and supplies. And she knows all the creatures and birds that share her home.

Meanwhile, interwoven with scenes of Kya growing up are stories of the investigation of the dead body in the swamp. The body was a popular young man in the town, a star football player when he was in high school. He fell from an old fire tower. But there are no footprints in the mud leading up to it, not even his own. Gossip starts to mention that he once spent time with the Marsh Girl.

This is also a story of the men Kya eventually meets. One is a beautiful love story – but like so many other people in her life, he lets her down. And then there’s the story of the young man she turned to out of loneliness.

All along the way there are beautiful descriptions of life – all sorts of life – in the marsh. There’s poetry about it and we come to understand Kya’s wild heart. It’s also a wonderful story of how she builds a beautiful life. Of course, that will all be threatened if she’s convicted of murder.

Here’s the first paragraph of the Prologue, giving a small taste of the nature writing woven throughout this book:

Marsh is not swamp. Marsh is a space of light, where grass grows in water, and water flows into the sky. Slow-moving creeks wander, carrying the orb of the sun with them to the sea, and long-legged birds lift with unexpected grace – as though not built to fly – against the roar of a thousand snow geese.

deliaowens.com
penguinrandomhouse.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Prime Suspects, by Andrew Granville & Jennifer Granville, illustrated by Robert J. Lewis

Saturday, November 9th, 2019

Prime Suspects

The Anatomy of Integers and Permutations

by Andrew Granville & Jennifer Granville
illustrated by Robert J. Lewis

Princeton University Press, 2019. 230 pages.
Starred Review
Review written 9/19/19 from a library book

Okay, now I’ve seen everything! This is a graphic novel murder mystery about research mathematics!

The characters have names that play off of the names of distinguished mathematicians. The lead detective uses ideas from his namesake.

The most interesting part is that when the detective team goes to the autopsy of recent victim Arnie Int, lieutenant of the Integer Crime Family, they found everything inside his body has decomposed – except for prime numbers! The apprentice detective pulls a bloody number out of his body and says, “It’s a prime, sir!”

They find the body is similar to a previous victim, Daisy Permutation. I like the scene where the detectives discuss it while playing billiards:

“It’s not a similarity, but in both victims, the internal organs were completely decomposed.
Except that in Arnie Int there was a smattering of primes, and in Daisy permutation, a smattering of cycles.”

“But that’s only to be expected.
Cycles are the fundamental constituent parts of a permutation, just like primes are the fundamental constituent parts of an integer.”

And it’s all done in a dark style, with some clueless videographers to explain things to, and mathematical puns in the background.

The math itself – where they compare the set of integers to the set of permutations – went over my head, and I’ve got a Master’s in Math. I read the back matter where it’s explained, and it still went over my head – though I at least understood what basic concepts were at work. And I did, after reading, understand at least that cycles are the building blocks of permutations as primes are the building blocks of integers.

And I’m still tickled to death that someone made a graphic novel thriller about higher math.

There are fun ads on the inside cover, such as: “Are you looking to get away from it all? Why not come and stay at Hilbert’s fabulous “Infinite Hotel”? There is ALWAYS room for as many guests as want to stay.” And: “RIEMANN’S ROOTS: We’ll plant your organic roots in straight rows. Guaranteed to have at least 41.69% of the roots in a straight line!” And: “Fermat’s Dreams: Truly remarkable ideas for the future which this inside cover is too small to contain!”

The back matter takes up 50 large pages, so it takes as long to read as the 180 pages of the graphic novel part. Yes, it includes the math, but also you’ve got notes on the mathematicians referred to, notes about the references in the art, and an explanation of how the book came to be – beginning as a screenplay (which has been performed in live readings).

Here’s the beginning of that section:

Integers and permutations are fundamental mathematical objects that inhabit quite distinct worlds though, under more sophisticated examination, one cannot help but be struck by the extraordinary similarities between their anatomies. This comic book stemmed from an experiment to present these similarities to a wider audience in the form of a dramatic narrative. In these after-pages, we will clarify some of the mathematical ideas alluded to in the comic book, giving the details of Gauss’s lectures and Langer’s presentation at the police precinct. We will also break down the content of some of the background artwork, explaining how some of it refers to breakthroughs in this area of mathematics, some of it to other vaguely relevant mathematics, while some content is simply our attempt at mathematical humor.

Our goal in Prime Suspects has been not only to popularize the fascinating and extraordinary similarities between the fine details of the structure of integers and of permutations, but also to draw attention to several key cultural issues in mathematics:

— How research is done, particularly the roles of student and adviser;
— The role of women in mathematics today; and
— The influence and conflict of deep and rigid abstraction.

I’m not sure everyone will love this book, but I sure do! Sure to be all the rage in graduate wings of math departments across the nation!

press.princeton.edu

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