Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Debut

If someone says "free books," I instantly raise my hand.  It's a Pavlovian thing, probably.  Getting my hands on more books is a daily goal.  Of course, I have to read them, too.  That's where the problem begins, not because I don't want to, but because I do want to.  I also want to read the other 294 titles I currently have listed as To-read on Goodreads.  I want to do nothing but read, but there are these other obligations like children, work, cooking...When I got my weekly update from Early Word and it was looking for reviewers for the Penguin Debut Authors group, my hand shot up in the air.  "Pick me!  Pick me!"  I am that annoying kid in the class who always has to be heard.

Two weeks ago, I received the first book in the mail, The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman.  While Zimmerman has written other books, this is her first fiction.  It is historical, and is set in mid-seventeenth century New Amsterdam.  The book takes its title from an actual position in earlier time periods.  Orphan masters were in charge of caring for the orphans of a community.  New Amsterdam's orphans play a key part in this historical suspense book, and unfortunately for many of them, it is the supporting role of corpse.  Someone is killing orphans.  That someone uses the Native American folklore to confuse the community, and appears as a Witika.  Also know as the Wendigo, this Native American boogeyman haunts the wilderness and takes, rapes, kills and eats its prey.  A grown orphan, Blandine von Couvering, finds herself thrust into the mystery, not only to help the orphans, but eventually to clear herself of blame.  As more children disappear, familiar and beloved members of New Amsterdam become suspect, including Aet Visser, the orphan master and Blandine, whose independent, assertive nature makes her stand out even in the gender-tolerant Dutch community.  Aided by a British newcomer, Edward Drummond, Blandine discovers the truth is often more frightening than tales of the boogeyman.  United by love, the couple must face a serial killer who is haunted not only by loss and hunger and but also by a sense of entitlement.

The setting of this book is fascinating.   Historical fiction lovers will adore Zimmerman's writing style which brings life to a long-gone Dutch community in 17th century America.  Political upheaval is imminent for New Amsterdam, and Zimmerman deftly weaves a cast of characters whose actions and interactions create a beautiful and intricate plot tapestry.Characters who seem extraneous initially eventually become central to the plot, and each is cleverly developed and connected to the mystery at hand.  The plot may be somewhat formulaic - that was one problem for me.  I found myself checking off a mental checklist each time an event occurred that was predictable or expected.  Overall, however, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and  found it easy to pick up and hard to put down.  Zimmerman is an author I will seek in the future.  

Sometimes, raising your hand a lot pays off, as it did in this case.  This afternoon is the live chat that is part of the Penguin Debut Authors group, and I look forward to sharing thoughts with others who have read this fascinating book.  Can't wait to see what arrives next, but until then, I am reading Michelle Cooper's third installment of The Montmaray Journals, The FitzOsbornes at War,  a Net Galley ARC that I snagged immediately.  I also have seven books to read for SOYAMRG by the third week in May.  Oh, and I went to the public library this week and checked out three books that really look good, including a book of short stories by Joyce Carol Oates.  So many books, so little time.

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