Book recommendations

By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly

http://nwasianweekly.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/32_50/shelf_dissociation.jpgThe Dissociation of Haruhi Suzumiya
By Nagaru Tanigawa
Little, Brown and Company, 2013

In the latest installment in the Haruhi Suzumiya series, we find the SOS Brigade (Save the World By Overloading It With Fun Haruhi Suzumiya) entering a new school year.

As brigade chief Haruhi, resident alien Yuki Nagato, esper-boy Itsuki Koizumi, and “normal” member — and narrator — Kyon enter their second year of high school, and time-traveler Mikuru Asahina enters her second year, it is clear things are not going to be business-as-usual for the five friends — even with the group’s unusual membership and even more unusual, deity-like leader.

It all begins when Kyon runs into Sasaki, an old classmate from middle school. What starts as a seemingly random run-in quickly escalates into something more, as Kyon learns his old friend may actually have abilities much like those of Haruhi. This discovery leads to two versions of the same story being told. Kyon meets individuals from other organizations, who are doing things similar to his fellow brigade members — they are watching over Sasaki, just as Yuki, Itsuki, and Mikuru are doing with Haruhi.

The beginning of a new school year means the beginning of new misadventures for our favorite fivesome. And what better way to start fresh than with some fresh faces? The previous books in the series mainly focused on the SOS Brigade, its members, and a few classmates who occasionally get roped into the mix. There has been the occasional mention of outside individuals and organizations, whose motives may be more sinister toward the title character. However, “Dissociation” brings them to the forefront, as we see that they have formed a sort of parallel, “bizzaro” group around Sasaki.

While the series has remained strong and entertaining for longtime fans, this new twist gives it a bit of a jumpstart, as readers begin to wonder if Haruhi truly, albeit unknowingly, has the power to control the universe as we’ve come to believe, or if there are other powers at play.

http://nwasianweekly.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/32_50/shelf_died.jpgThe Case of the Man Who Died Laughing
By Tarquin Hall
Simon & Schuster, 2010

Private eye Vish Puri of Most Private Investigators is back at work in Delhi. This time, he is (discreetly) helping the police solve a murder in which the victim — a prominent Indian scientist known as the “Guru Buster” — appears to be killed while in a fit of giggles by the Hindu goddess Kali.

While many are ready to claim it as a miracle, Puri isn’t so sure and he sets off to find the divine imposter. Puri and his trusty team of undercover operatives travel throughout India — from the slum that India’s hereditary magicians call home, to an alleged spiritual sanctuary located in the holy city of Haridwar on the Ganges — to figure out who killed the well-known scientist and how.

Trying to solve a murder is hard enough, but throw in an angry goddess and the age-old science-versus-religion argument and the difficulty increases exponentially, as Puri and his team piece the puzzle together.

Whenever murder is involved, it is easy for a story to become dark, but Hall manages to keep things light. From Puri’s penchant for eating and his struggles with India’s extreme heat, to his wife and mother’s misadventures as they work to solve their own little mystery, to the detective’s dealings with his brother-in-law’s latest get-rich-quick scheme, there is plenty throughout the story to keep readers amused.

Hall has created a loveable character in Puri, who can be a bit pompous and may enjoy tooting his own horn. This is balanced by his constant battle with his wife over her tendency to spend money on their unborn grandchild and his inability to stop his Mummy-ji’s investigative habits. These difficulties show that Puri is human. While he can solve most crimes, he has just as much trouble as anyone when it comes to dealing with loved ones.

http://nwasianweekly.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/32_50/shelf_freak.jpgFreak
By Jennifer Hillier
Gallery Books, 2012

Having read and been thoroughly frightened by Hillier’s debut novel, “Creep,” I admit to making the conscious choice to read her follow-up “Freak” in the light of day.

And I’m glad I did. The story revolves around a serial killer who carves messages on his victims’ backs for the Seattle Police Department (SPD) to find. That message is “Free Abby Maddox,” a young woman currently serving a nine-year sentence for slashing SPD officer-turned-private-investigator Jerry Isaac’s neck. After nearly dying, Jerry is content to let Abby rot in jail. But these messages bring him back into the SPD fold, as he helps his former partner, detective Mike Torrance, convince the woman to help them find the killer. Rounding out the team is Puget Sound State University professor Shelia Tao and criminology student Danny Mercy.

“Freak” picks up about a year after the events in “Creep,” in which Abby’s former lover Ethan Wolfe killed more than a dozen women and almost added Shelia to the tally. Everyone is still dealing with the aftermath of those events — which Abby may or may not have had a hand in — but the new killer pushes everything to the forefront.

From the beginning, Hillier has us questioning characters’ motives and actions, and trying to figure out if they are who they say they are. This constant uncertainty will have readers turning page after page, as they race to the end to see if their guess at “whodunit” is correct.

In addition to being a page-turner, “Freak” may leave you looking at the people around you, questioning what exactly is going on in their heads, and wondering what secrets they may be hiding from the world. (end)

Samantha Pak can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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