from description: For Zelda, a twenty-one-year-old Viking enthusiast who lives with her older brother, Gert, life is best lived with some basic rules:
1. A smile means “thank you for doing something small that I liked.”
2. Fist bumps and dabs = respect.
3. Strange people are not appreciated in her home.
4. Tomatoes must go in the middle of the sandwich and not get the bread wet.
5. Sometimes the most important things don’t fit on lists.
But when Zelda finds out that Gert has resorted to some questionable—and dangerous—methods to make enough money to keep them afloat, Zelda decides to launch her own quest. Her mission: to be legendary. It isn’t long before Zelda finds herself in a battle that tests the reach of her heroism, her love for her brother, and the depth of her Viking strength.
I loved Zelda, who suffers from cognitive disabilities as a result of fetal alcohol syndrome, and sympathized with Gert, who had been responsible for her most of her life.
It wasn't the characters that didn't work for me, they were well realized. It was the narrative that bothered me. Also, Zelda's ability to read and retain information,to add and use words to her vocabulary daily, as well as her ability to problem-solve were a little puzzling. I know college-educated adults who would have difficulty reading nonfiction works about Vikings and remembering in detail. Zelda shows both maturity and immaturity in equal measure, almost as if her intellect was fine and only her emotional responses were childlike.
There were parts I loved, but something (I'm not sure exactly what--a kind of ambivalence or doubt that kept creeping in) kept me from wholeheartedly believing.
I do recommend When We Were Vikings. A sense of compassion permeates the story. It is easy to fall in love with Zelda and to admire Gert's commitment to his sister. The support of AK47 and others is another uplifting element to this modern myth of heroes, Valkyries, and villains.
NetGalley/Gallery, Pocket Books
Literary Fiction. Feb. 1, 2020. Print length: 335 pages.
Louise Penny's Glass Houses begins slowly with a murder trial, but moves back and forth in time between the inciting event and the trial.
Nearly a year before the trial, a strange masked figure wearing a hooded black robe appears at a Halloween party. No one recognizes the figure and the figure remains silent, ignoring the questions of party goers. Puzzling, but since it is a Halloween party, most of Three Pines residents and the two visiting couples find it merely curious.
The next day, the figure appears on the village green, silent and seemingly immobile--and curiosity turns to uneasiness. When Armand Gamache approaches it, questioning its identity and intent, the silence and lack of physical response begin to feel menacing. The figure has hurt no one, but the silent vigil is unnerving for the community. They want Gamache to do something, but no laws have been broken.
Eventually a guest mentions the cobrador del frac--a Spanish debt collector dressed in top hat and tails who follows people who owe money and refuse to pay.
He adds that much less is known about the medieval origin of the cobrador, a collector of moral debts--who acted as a conscience and stalked his target until confession or penance occurred.
The idea of an incarnation of the ancient cobrador--taking no action, speaking not at all, but shaming the guilty party--causes citizens of Three Pines and their guests to wonder whose moral crimes have attracted the cobrador. And who has called a Conscience to Three Pines.
In a discussion of conscience, the question is asked about why the Holocaust happened. Myrna answers, "It happened because no one stopped them. Not enough people stood up soon enough. And why was that?"
Clara suggests fear may have prevented people taking action, and Myrna responds, "Yes, partly. And partly programming. All around them, respectable Germans saw others behaving brutally toward people they considered outsiders. The Jews, gypsies, gays. It became normal and acceptable. No one told them what was happening was wrong. In fact, just the opposite."
Armand follows up a little later with "We see it when bullies are in charge. It becomes part of the culture of an institution, a family, an ethnic group, a country. It becomes not just acceptable, but expected. Applauded even."
The cobrador is conscience, and someone in the tiny village knows that he or she is the guilty party. Then a murder.
As the narrative moves back and forth between the court scenes and the arrival of the cobrador in Three Pines nearly a year earlier, the background is gradually filled in.
Gamache faces a dilemma that results in a decision that will bother his conscience with either dreadful choice.
Character-driven and complex, Glass Houses is another outstanding offering from Louise Penny.
Now, I have only three more books to be caught up with this remarkable series.
Crime/Mystery. 2017. Print length: 391 pages.
One of my favorite books last year was Erik Larson's The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz.
Here is an interesting interview: Erik Larson on Writing Wartime Life During the London Blitz.